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Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 and Psalm 125 OR Isaiah 35:4-7a and Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
COLLECTFor the Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary time ....
Lord God, our heavenly King, we confess that, in sending your Son to us, that you have indeed done all things well. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the Gospel is preached. But we are often astounded at the demands made upon our faith. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse of what it is you truly want from us. We see someone like Teresa of Calcutta and think that she was extraordinary. She wasn't really. She was just a simple woman who lived your word by loving with mercy. When we look into our mirrors Lord, help us to see the face of our neighbours staring back. Help us to truly live the word. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
THOUGHTSI am glad to be alive. It sure beats the alternative! But some days I am in such pain and so tired from poor sleep that I find it hard to remember the joy and to remember the reason for my hope. I have learned that this is one of the big reasons why I need community. Others help to support me by their caring. They remind me of the promises of God. They testify to and witness to what God has done for them. Together, with them, I can find the strength to raise my voice in praise and prayer.
On some of my bad days I feel like I am one of the Lord's poor. Whoever said that, 'if you don't have your health, nothing else matters' wasn't far wrong. Everything that I offer to God comes welling up through my pain and fatigue and general unwellness. I often see it as precious little. It was in that spirit that I came across the phrase 'sacrifice of praise.' Praise is indeed a sacrifice when you feel so ill!
Reading about 'faith without works' as I prepared my commentary for this week I often wondered (and have for years) about what constitutes works for those among us who are limited in our energies and in our resources. I do strongly believe that if we read the phrase as 'faith without love' we would understand this passage a whole lot better. Works done for the sake of works are no more loving that failing to do works when we can. Deeds of love: sacrifices of praise, prayer, care, respect, righteousness, sharing resources, acting out the faith one holds; these are 'faith with love, faith with works!'
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
The fundamental connection between each of us on this planet is that God has made us all. By this connection we are obligated to regard God with awe and each other with love. God watches over us. He sees what we do and how we do it. A law that has been operative on this planet from the beginning is that we reap what we sow. If we sow in anger, we reap a harvest of sorrow. If sow in greed, we reap a harvest of bitterness. The Lord cares for the weak and vulnerable among us, noting how they are treated. By our actions we earn a name for ourselves. Proverbs says that a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches (22:1).
What is my name? What have I sown? Who do I respect? Good check-in questions for an examination of conscience. Point To Ponder: If I am connected with every other person on this planet, how does that affect how I view others?
Living as I do in the northern end of the Columbia Valley where the Kicking Horse River meets the mighty Columbia and where the valley is sandwiched here between two magnificent mountain ranges - the Rockies and the Purcells, it is easy to grasp the image of God surrounding his people (v. 2). Not only is it easy, it is almost an imperative. One cannot miss the hand of the Creator in the vast expanse of star-studded sky with velvet images of mountain peaks silhouetted against it. When the Northern Lights dance and the Perseids meteorites flash burn through them, one is held in awe.
No matter what happens, I am held secure in God, in God who I trust. No matter what the circumstances, no matter who is governing, my faith is in God who will not allow the triumph of wickedness to endure. It also takes very little to go from 'me' to the whole Body of Christ, the Church, Christ's bride. I pray with the Psalmist, 'Peace be on Israel!' 'Peace be on the Church!'
Part of our ministry, for each of us, is the ministry of encouragement. We have the promises and the fulfillment. We have the testimony and the witness. It is up to us to encourage the fearful, to remind others of the reason for our hope. 'Here is our God!' Here is the presence of God. Now. See, there are the signs. There is healing and renewal. Dry barren deserts are giving forth life. The water is welling up in springs.
The Messianic significance of this passage is immediate. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, the speechless sing for joy! Where do we see the signs today? What are the signs of Messiah in our midst? What reason do folk have to sing for joy?
This psalm is the first of five so-called Halleluiah psalms that end off the book of Psalms. Halleluiah! - Praise the Lord! I think that, in our comfortable mainstream churches, outside of a few hymns, it is very hard for us to say, 'Praise the Lord!' We would sound so, so... so evangelical. But I think that there is more than our religious language comfort level involved here.
I have difficulty praising. I sound so contrived, so artificial, so insincere to myself. Have you ever tried - as a practice - praising God? I need help to do that. The psalms are a marvellous antidote to my paralyzed vocal chords. Reciting the psalms out loud help me. Writing and creating my own praise lists help me. I know that I have much to praise God for. Psalm 146 lists the messianic signs as a reason to praise.
But the psalmist also warns against putting one's trust in mere mortals instead of in God. This aspect of the psalm led me to some moments reflecting on the stuff and the persons I do trust in and why. I think the psalmist has a point though. As I watched the last episode of the TV program on Queen Elizabeth I tonight, I saw that she, despite being a rich and powerful and influential queen, still came to the end of her days, still had to die and face her Maker. Of course I already 'knew' this but it was brought home vividly in this episode with the Archbishop leading her through her 'confessio.' When I come to the end of my days, what will my life show of who I trusted in?
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
This part of James appears to be an extension of his advice around being, 'doers of the word.' If we are 'doers' of the word, if we live by the word, then we are lovers. We cannot treat people with distinctions that say, 'A is more worthy than B.' Mother Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind when I think of the words of v.2:1-5. I cannot imagine her ignoring the very weak, the very ill, the very poor in favour of the very powerful. Mother Tersa was a lover! The relationship between her faith and her works was vivid and tangible and a life-bearing force in this tired old world.
There is an accountability in my faith that forces me to look at the stuff of love. I can only run so long from the shadow of my conscience chasing me. I bear the name of Christ. Do I dare dishonour it? I have, again and again, God help me. But God is also merciful and, mercy, I am assured (v. 13), will triumph - if - I am merciful myself. The only thing I have to figure out is what constitutes mercy. I don't think that that is really very difficult to do. Verse 8 gives it all away. 'I shall love my neighbour as myself.'
Ok here we go. I think Jesus was really clever here in the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. I think he set-up the disciples. He still has folk set-up 2000 years later. Here is a man, a student, as every good Jew, of the scriptures. He would know and value the story of the widow of Zarephath, in which territory he was visiting. He is in the region of Tyre. This was not Jewish territory! The story of the poor widow and the phophet Elijah is one in which God shows his favouritism of a gentile woman and her child!
That Jesus was 'playing' with the disciples might be seen in the fact of the terms he uses for the Israelites and the Gentiles. He calls the Israelites 'children' and the Gentiles, 'pups' or kynaria - 'little dogs.'** (See note below.) Try reading his words with 'pups' instead of dogs. Notice the use of the phrase 'be fed first': 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the pups.' This puts a whole new complexion on the story. Jesus wants us to react to it. This is good. we are engaged when our guts react! Jesus heals the woman's child. Perhaps she became one of his first Gentile converts.
The next vignette is of another healing. In the first story, it is the woman's faith that is tested and rewarded. In this second story it appears to be the faith of the man's friends that is answered. In the first he speaks the word and the child is healed - at a distance. She is not even present!. In the second there appears to be a sacramental usage in the healing - an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace OR the actions effect or cause what they symbolize. Jesus puts his fingers in the man's ears, then spits and then touches the man's tongue, saying, 'Ephphatha!' 'Be opened!' And the man was healed. It appears that Jesus is not bound by sets of rules of 'how' to do things.
Two more things. The secret, the Messianic secret. Could it be just as simple a thing as maximizing Jesus' effectiveness in ministry - healing, teaching and preaching - while he could? Obviously people had talked about and were talking about him and his miracles. The more well-known he became the harder it became for him to find the time and space for teaching and prayer and the more likely those who confused him for a political saviour would try to raise him up in that fashion.
Finally.... The reaction of the crowd touched me. 'They were astounded beyond measure... he has done all things well...' What would my reaction be if I were there? I think we keep forgetting about the advantages of hindsight and how easy it is to claim a faith untried by anything greater than the occasional challenge to our pocketbooks.
[Note: Both the Jerome Commentary and Eerdmans are in agreement on this usage of a diminutive: 'little dogs' or 'pups.']
Ordinary ThoughtsWhen I was very young I used to think of rain as washing the world clean. I still do. It might have been the effect of an early telling of the story of Noah or it might just have been how wonderful everything smells after a rain. Tonight it is raining in my corner of the world. Steadily, drumming on the roof, running in rivulets down windows, washing the world. Soon, despite the rain, I will take my little dogs out for a modified version of our nightly walk. I have come to regard this walk time as very precious. Just me and the doglets and my prayers. Wash your world clean tonight Lord. Rinse away the stain of hatred and sin. Help me to be part of the solution. May they know I am a Christian by my love. Amen.
copyright - Charlene E. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2000 - 2006
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