August 21, 2016-Proper 16 (Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost)
August 17, 2016 | by Benjamin Cowan
|Reading 1 Alt
|Reading 2 Alt
|: Isaiah 58:9b-14
The Old Testament reading this week recounts the call narrative of Jeremiah. First, the story of Jeremiah and his calling is brought to fruition because of events of the past. The way the people of Israel prehended the past paved the way for Jeremiah to be called a prophet (1:4-5). As Jeremiah faces this reality, he is afraid and assumes that he was not of age to fulfill the call (1:6). In one sense this harkens back to the very calling of Moses, who was also afraid to answer the call of God (Exodus 3-4:1-15). It also shows that Jeremiah understands his own social standing, youth were not listened to for wisdom in his day. But God’s response to Jeremiah is one of affirmation. God does not define Jeremiah in the manner by which his culture defines him but sees the possibilities of Jeremiah rising to be a great prophet of his generation. Furthermore, God confronts Jeremiah’s fear by reminding him that in this process of becoming a prophet he is not alone because God is with Jeremiah. To affirm this, God touched Jeremiah’s mouth enabling it to become God’s oracle and in doing so opens Jeremiah to a world of new ideas that will find expression through his tongue. God tells Jeremiah that these words will help bring somethings to decay and other things to new life. This is what the preaching of the gospel does. It allows some things to find their conclusion while allowing others thing to come alive.
In the Hobbit, Gandalf says to Bilbo, “I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.” Bilbo responds that he imagines so implying that idea of taking risk is not often the best. As the old Chinese curse goes, “may you live in interesting times.” This implies that in stagnation one can know what will happen but with adventure there is uncertainty.The call narrative is an invitation for an adventure with God, to see oneself, society, culture, world, and cosmos, with new eyes and new words. Fear is a natural response to change and uncertainty but fear is not what God gives humanity (2 Tim 1:7). Fear in this passage is overcome relationally. The promise of not being alone on that the adventure that Jeremiah, and ourselves will go on, is one in which we are not alone. Like Bilbo leaving the Shire and visiting places no Hobbit had gone before, our adventures with God will take us to new places, cause us to encounter new people and will change our world and the larger world. The question remains: Are you willing to share in the adventure that God is arranging?
In this psalm, the petition for help is based on the relationship that the psalmist has with God. The psalmist puts his trust in God because God is whom the psalmist has known from youth, like Jeremiah. The years of cultivating this relationship leads the psalmist to believe that in the time of, fear, adversity, trial, and testing that the psalmist can hope in God. Therefore, the psalmist asks God for help! For some of us, asking and knowing when we need help is not always an easy thing. But one thing is certain, it is always easier to ask for help from someone you know than someone you do not know. As such, let us cultivate a relationship with God and our neighbors so that we may not only be their for them but they can also be their for us. This is the essence of community: loving others and receiving love.
Alternative Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14
In this passage, Isaiah calls the people back to loving God and their neighbor. Isaiah discerns that selfishness has overrun the nation of Israel and this results in not only the neglecting of the worship of God, but also the downtrodden of society. God reminds them that when they help the weak and the poor, life is brought to the whole community. Isaiah presumes that when one worships and honors God, one cannot help but to be attentive to others and particularly one cannot turn away from the suffering of those in need. When one does not worship God, one becomes caught in one’s own selfish interest. Worship of God teaches care for others beyond oneself.
Alternative Psalm 103:1-8
The Psalm provides a response of worship as gratitude to God. The psalmist reminds the audience of God’s concern for justice, the oppressed, and following the way of the Lord. For the psalmist, this is how one can experience the mercy of God.
In this passage the author compares the covenant that God made through Moses with the covenant God makes through Jesus. First, the author describes the splendor of how God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites during the Exodus. Yet, despite this glory, the covenant of Jesus is greater. This covenant is not one made on Mt. Sinai but one that comes from the heavenly Jerusalem, the place of God’s dwelling. Furthermore, it is inaugurated in the blood of the Son of God. In the ancient world, covenants were always initiated in the sacrifice of animals, generally one without defect. The ancients affirmed that blood was the life force and pure blood (symbolized in an animal without any faults to its physical form) could purge away the guilt or connect the life of others. Also, the ancients believed that blood of the murdered, such as Abel, cried out as a witness until being properly avenged. The author of Hebrews sees the concept as congruent with the covenant of Mt. Sinai, which is the why the day of atonement itself was required. By contrast, Jesus’ blood cries for forgiveness louder than vengeance. Thus, what emerges is that where the law required consistent atonement for violating it through the sacrifice of animals, otherwise retribution would be required, the covenant through Jesus’ blood now allows for forgiveness without the need of continual animal sacrifice and fear of retribution.
In this passage, Jesus does the unthinkable…he heals a woman on the Sabbath! The religious leaders are outraged that he would dare do such a work on the Sabbath. But Jesus gives a twofold response to their critique: 1) he points out that they continue to provide water for their animals to survive, even on the Sabbath. 2) Jesus asserts an act of compassion and love for a woman who has suffered 18 years, who is a child of Abraham, and by extension God, cannot be a violation of the Sabbath. The crowds rejoice and the religious leaders are described as being shamed. The narrative is a reminder that there are essentials to holistic living and that acts of love that enable freedom should not be hindered to the children of God, whom the gospels understands as all humans, because of laws, cultural norms, or religious norms. In our modern times this can be seen in churches who have defied ordinances that blocked them from feeding the homeless. The text calls us to advocate for that which is essential to life and to go forth in sharing compassion to all.