As I studied up on the readings for Sunday one common theme emerged: Resist.
The resist I speak of is a resistance to the stuff we are told will make us feel better if only we can accumulate enough of it. A resistance to running after power, status and ambition; resistance to serving only ourselves. And a resistance to who the “world” says we should be.
This is an important and teachable worldview right now. Our world, and the United States specifically, is divided. We have a breach that most of the time seems irreparable. The lectionary this week provides good news and encouragement to those who choose to live a radical and open life.
Proverbs gives us an ideal picture of resistance. Rather than an embedded fallacy of ideal womanhood maybe this passage is more about ideal partnership and a life grounded in service to others. Does this passage illustrate a healthy spousal relationship that bears fruit in each individual, spreading into the family and then the community at large? Yes, I think it does. It is a relationship that is supportive and empowering, each giving their gifts to the other and the community and larger family reaping the benefits.
James pops in, and though we aren’t sure who James is, or which group he is writing to, his pastoral (eek!) letter calls the readers to account for the way they are living. As Mark Douglas wrote in his Feasting on the Word essay, “The forces of darkness are no threat to those who see with heavenly wisdom…that battle is settled. Instead, the conflicts we face are those that come from within us, from disordered and conflicting desires…the true battle is for self awareness, self control.”
I think we need the verses the lectionary leaves out: the moral exhortation, the “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us… cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded” We need this because it explains to us, yet again, that God desires to live in relationship with us, God’s creatures; and then it tells us how.
Just as Wisdom personified, James calls his readers to seek first the kingdom of God, the wisdom of God, relationship with God and love for God – all else flows naturally from that state. Wisdom does not serve herself, she serves God, and in serving God she serves others, building that utopic community where jealousy and pride no longer exist, because the members are all bound together in love.
The Gospel of Mark picks up the resistance theme as Mark tells us two stories. The first is that, despite what the disciples believed the Messiah would be, Jesus not only is the Messiah but will also be betrayed, wounded and killed. Jesus is teaching the disciples, and us, that his way is a way that sometimes involves suffering and death. Not just for the sake of suffering and death, to be sure, but for the sake of others.
The teachings this week are radical, they are the opposite of consumerism, power chasing and selfish living. Instead we are instructed to rise and care for others, finding our own lives salvaged in the process.
The second story is a lesson that says we must disregard all of what we are told is important and who we were groomed to be. Self importance, who will come in first, who gets the gold star – none of it matters. Jesus lifts a little child who helpfully happened to be wandering past and says that just as he welcomes the child, we are to welcome. We know this is a societal shift. We know that children were not really persons but mere property. We know that honoring a child is akin to honoring a servant or a woman. But the words of Jesus command us to do it anyway.
We may find applicable examples in the controversial subjects of masks and vaccines, welcoming of immigrants and refugees, racial and gender equality. The Bible is actually pretty clear on where we should stand – if only we would cede our place at the head of the table and instead tie on an apron and get to work.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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