READINGS: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a and Psalm 51:1-12 OR Exodus 16:2-4 9-15 and Psalm 78:23-29; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35|
COLLECTFor the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary time ....
O God, you who are both near at hand, immanent in our lives, and far away, causing our spirits and imagination to soar outwards and upwards beyond ourselves; cause us ever to yearn for the bread of your immediate presence instead of just the gifts you have for us. Help us to see and grow beyond the immediacy of our needs and wants. Help us to recognize the holy ground we walk on each day, the burning bushes we rush past, the silent cries and salty tears shed by our hurting brothers and sisters. Purge us of our selfishness and shape us into fitting stones for your temple, the Body of Christ. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
THOUGHTSAs I started to "wrestle" with this week's texts (and wrestling a la Jacob and the Angel is quite often what it feels like), I realized that some folk were literally sitting in judgement upon the texts under the cover of interpretation. That bothered me. It is an attitude that assumes a stand of superiority to the text. Some folk were having difficulty with a God who would require the life of the child as "punishment" for David's sin and were concentrating all their attention on dealing with this thorny problem. They saw in this instance, an "inferior" understanding of God which we Christians in this day and age have progressed beyond; our God would not do such a thing. I wondered what the "take" on the text of 2 Samuel 11 was by our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Now I don't particularly like the feel of a God of judgement, a God of consequences myself. But my understanding of the word, of the Biblical texts is that these texts were not exactly intended to be popular, to win some kind of "People's Choice" award. The scriptures are, as has been said by some, a window into a world where we look on, marvelling at the story and its details, and discovering all of a sudden, that the window has turned into a mirror.
The texts are meant to speak to us, to challenge us at a fundamental level of our beings, to call us to new ways of seeing, right where we are at today. We are not meant to dismiss a story, or miss its teachings, just because we find it difficult to wrap our minds around the stated interpretation within the text. We are meant to dig deeply when confronted with discomfort. Why do we feel uncomfortable? What does our discomfort say about God, about the teaching within the text, about ourselves, about our world? To dismiss the text, or, deal with a text in a way that folk can 'swallow' it is unfair to the text. Why did God suffer the little child to die as a consequence of David's sin? We do it all the time under the cover of 'right to choice' in our support of abortion. How dare we judge God!
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
David's behaviour must have been the scandal of all Israel. Things like this are hard to disguise and keep secret. Not only was David lounging at home instead of being at the battlefront with his men, but he was smitten with this woman, so smitten that he 'took' her and had her husband killed to cover-up his deeds.
Then along comes Nathan. In a very clever approach Nathan gets David to condemn himself and hand out a sentence - death. Adultery and murder deserved death. To his credit David immediately acknowledges his guilt and repents. In his repentance David is extended the grace of mercy. But his punishment also lives: that of the sword never departing from his house, trouble arising from within his own house, his wives (concubines) being taken by another, and the child to be born will die. It seems in this passage that God's mercy and God's justice are not mutually exclusive. It also seems that the concept of the visitation of the 'punishment of the sins of the father unto the children to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me...,' an important feature of the law, is seen as being fulfilled here. This is a very public punishment of David's sin. It shows that even the King is not immune to God's wrath.
That David understood the God who would take a child's life can be seen in his own subsequent behaviour and in Psalm 51 written in response to the whole scenario. David pleaded with God for the child but nowhere do we see him angry at God because of this.
It is my practice to pray the Breviary daily. Every Friday morning, along comes Psalm 51. Every Friday morning I am reminded of my own guilt. Invariably my mind leaps back over the week to something that I know I did wrong. I pray with David asking God to 'create a new heart in me ... to put a new and right spirit within me.' This psalm is a poignant cry of a repentant heart, a heart that recognizes its guilt, a heart that recognizes a holy God.
David very strongly claims that 'God is justified in his sentence, blameless when he passes judgement.' Could I do the same? How often does my repentance skim the surface of appearances? I want to wriggle off the hook of God's judgement with some clever way of looking at things, some justification for my behaviour. But in my heart of hearts when I am confronted with the scriptures... I know the difference.
Exodus 16:2-4 9-15
The grumbling begins but the people are careful to complain about the Lord's servants Moses and Aaron and not directly about God. The intervening verses, not included in the lection, reveal this hypocrisy. The Israelites have the 'glory of the Lord' present with them but they do not understand what that presence means. And they do not know how to ask for good things from God's hands. How often am I like that! Despite their complaining, God is gracious and provides, saying, 'you will have meat to eat and your fill of bread... and then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'
When we have eaten the bread, the Body of Christ, in the Eucharist, do we KNOW that this is the LORD our God?
The psalm calls the bread that God sent the Israelites 'the bread of angels' and says that he 'gave them what they craved.'
Unity, the work, the calling of the Church. Each of us as a part of the Body is called to co-operate in this corporate endeavour of unity. We are given gifts and graces so that we might contribute to the unity, the peace. None of us exists, in our calling as followers, as servants of Christ, in isolation. We are called to unity in the Body.
Jesus challenges the crowd (and us) to a deeper level of understanding of the signs and miracles; challenges them (and us) to dig beneath the surface of our appetites. It is His presence, not the presents He gives, that make possible all the good that the crowd (and we) experience. He provides the 'bread from heaven.' The crowds (and we) are much like the little children who are more excited by the presents brought than by the giver of the gift. The crowd (and we) are so immediate that we have difficulty recognizing the eternal.
We are led in this passage to look for the life-giving Presence of God in the signs we are privileged to see. As Jesus himself says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." It really is that simple and that difficult!
Ordinary ThoughtsI am grateful to be back at writing these collects and commentaries. I am deeply grateful that my physical health is returning. It was a very difficult time - physically - for me when I felt called to begin this task back in Lent. I was very deeply spiritually engaged then in my journey to the Catholic Church. My spiritual health was (and is superb) and this helped to carry me through an immemsely depressing and irritating time of dizziness, nausea, profound fatigue and pain.
I would appreciate your prayers for continuing health.
copyright - Charlene E. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2000 - 2006
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