Child's Play

Welcome to this week's foray into all things pericope. If you wish to read the texts - always a good idea -  you can do so by following the link provided below:

And, now that you are all set....

Wisdom 1:16 – 2:1, 12 - 22

There is an abundance of apocalyptic literature in the Old Testament in which God will destroy all of his enemies at the coming of the Messiah. But – as seen in the excerpt from Isaiah’s Suffering Servant texts last week – there is also a tradition concerning one who is sent by God that suffers great violence from those enemies of God.

Raymund Schwager, in his book, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, says this:

“In the last two centuries before Christ, at the latest, the hope became alive among the devout people of Israel that God would even rescue from death the just who have been persecuted and killed and give them heavenly glory. There is talk of a just man in the book of Wisdom who calls God his father and for that reason is persecuted by the evil-doers. They want to examine him scornfully, to find out if he is really a “Son of God,” and to see if God snatches him from their hands (Wisd. 2:18). At the judgment these evil-doers discover to their horror that he whom they have persecuted is counted among the “sons of God” (Wisd. 5:5). While they themselves pass away “like the smoke which the storm dispels,” the just receive the “kingdom of splendor” (Wisd. 5:14, 16).”

This tradition certainly finds its way into the Jesus narrative, who in many respects, becomes ultimately a composite of often times disparate traditions. How is Jesus both healer and instrument of retribution? How does he become both sacrificial lamb and scapegoat. How is he both a Son of Adam (man) and Son of God? Don’t get me started, but like the movies, King of Kings and the Greatest Story Ever Told, it is impossible to create a composite, seamless Jesus. Each of these traditions must be held up and weighed on their own contexts, and the inherent fears and hopes of the communities that embraced a particular world view. I should stop now…

James 3: 13 – 4:3, 7 – 8a

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” 

This is who we are. And, James – as we have discovered – knows us well. And, again, the heart of the matter is in the answer to the writer’s questions. Those cravings that are at war within us are not placed there by God, but by the subtle – and at times not so subtle – systems of deception and violence that we serve and that in turn, depend upon our participation for their survival. Paul’s reminders that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, etc., are directed toward a community who wants and needs those divisions to exploit to their own selfish ends. As I have stated before- and may again as I ruminate on Sunday’s sermon – it is why I register as an Independent and reject a partisan approach to our political issues. (And, also why I bristle at our laziness in confusing partisanship with politics, but that’s another story. Our parties ruin any chance we have at finding political solutions).

James’ point is that we need to recognize and name those conflicts within and acknowledge their source(s), and, thus enlightened, change our behavior so that it aligns with the one that flows from God – no darkness at all – and was modeled by the one who was became the first authentic human…

Mark 9: 30 - 37

The envy and desire that creates conflict of which James speaks is borne out in the words and actions of the disciples in the Markan text. Once again, their bad behavior follows an announcement from Jesus that he is going to be arrested and killed when they get to Jerusalem. (A quick aside: What is interesting about this prediction is that in this one instance, he does not say that he is going to be handed over to the chief priest and scribes, et al, but that he will be betrayed into human hands. (Oooooooh. A universalized take on Jesus’ betrayal. We are all guilty).

And, as usual, Mark’s Jesus immediately offers up an object lesson in humility and the meaning of true discipleship. (I know that the temptation is to make this text about the child and how we should welcome them, etc., but this story is really about the fragile egos and jealous souls – disciples like us - who gather around Jesus). In this instance, that means burying our own insecurities and embracing the powerless, giving them the place of pre-eminence at the center of the circle, as the focal point of attention and concern. Not our first instinct – caring for the victim, siding with the weak, surrendering the battle for prestige and safety. Jesus declares that such a surrender is not foolish or weak, but is the hallmark of the new community. The least is the most important – and not to be exploited or made expendable in the non-violent, non-sacrificial kingdom.

In The Gospel and the Sacred, Robert Hamerton-Kelly expands on a rather poetic image of Jesus – by example – surrendering the center, his place as teacher, to this powerless, insignificant child, who is in the center of this circle of disciples, in the center of this house, in the center of this town, in the center of creation…  I think Mark would have painted the scene that way were he an artist.