From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada). Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way". Contact Barry at firstname.lastname@example.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A Pastoral Resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Proper 8 - Year B
2 Samuel 1:1,17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15, Mark 5:21-43
'The Person Next To You'
There is a traditional Japanese story about a fellow who dies and finds himself in a shimmering realm. He thinks to himself, "I guess I was better than I thought!"
He is approached by a glistening angel who ushers him into a regal banquet hall in which an immense table is laid out with unimaginable delicacies. He is seated at the banquet table with many others, and a choice selection of food is served to him. As he picks up his fork and prepares to eat, the angel approaches him from behind and straps a thin board to the back of his arms so he cannot bend his elbows. As he continues trying to pick up the food, he sees that he can't get the food to his mouth. He cannot maneuvre in order to feed himself.
Looking about, he notices that all the other people around the table have their arms similarly strapped to boards so that they cannot bend their arms either. They are grunting and groaning as they attempt to get food to their mouths. But they cannot; and there is great wailing and moaning at their predicament.
So the man turns to the angel standing beside him and says, "This must be hell!."
"Uh, huh," says the angel.
"What about heaven?" asks the man.
So the angel shows him into another huge banquet hall in which there sits another great table, filled with an equally delectable array of food. "Ah," says the man, "this is more like it!" And, sitting down, he is about to help himself once again when another angel comes and ties a board to the back of his arms so that, once again, he cannot bend his elbows to feed himself. Lamenting that this is the same maddening situation as hell, he looks about in his dismay and notices that, at this table, there is something different happening.
Instead of people trying desperately to help themselves, straining against the rigidity of their arms, each person is holding his or her arm out straight and feeding the person on either side. Each person is feeding the person next to him and everyone in the room is completely satisfied.
"So, this is heaven!" the man finally realizes.
And the angel standing beside him says, "Uh, huh."
It would seem that we were meant to notice the person next to us.
This week's gospel is a story about two women. One is rich; the other is poor. Mark wants us to see the difference and to see what Jesus does. It is a stylized story, characteristic of Mark. One story begins and then gets interrupted or split by an intervening story. In this case, Jesus is first approached by the father of a gravely ill young woman. His help is needed; and he agrees to go.
But, on the way to help, Jesus is interrupted by another woman who is also in need of help. Jesus delays responding to the first request, even though it is on behalf of a young woman who is at the point of death. He stops his journey to deal with a woman who is determined to get his attention.
These are not two simple stories, accidentally connected. Mark has carefully constructed this story about two women to make a statement. The details of the story reveal what that statement is.
The daughter of Jairus is a woman of privilege. Just twelve years old, with the promise of womanhood ahead of her, she has lived in the comfort of affluence. Her father is a ruler of the synagogue, one of the powerful and the wealthy. She has no need of an advocate. She has one in the person of her father who approaches Jesus within the bounds of social propriety.
In contrast, the bleeding woman has suffered for twelve years. Her future has been "spent". She, too, is a "daughter" of Israel, but she is nameless and destitute. She has no one to speak for her. She must take her salvation into her own hands by breaking the bounds of what was both socially and religiously appropriate: an outcast and a woman, she touches a man in public.
Will Jesus allow himself to be bothered by this face in the crowd while on an important errand on behalf of the rich and famous?
Not only does Jesus attend to this second woman, he singles her out for her faith and perseverance. His delay in responding to the first request for his help will be used to teach the rich and powerful a lesson.
. . . Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe."
The healing journey must take detours on behalf of the powerless.
Only when the outcast woman is restored to true "daughterhood" can the daughter of the synagogue be restored to true life. That is the faith the privileged must learn from the poor. - "Say to This Mountain", Myers, Dennis, Nangle, Moe-Lobeda, Taylor
The point is: Jesus not only had time for the person next to him, the vision of the kingdom he came to embody pointed to a day when all would be attended to and no one would be ignored.
As I was writing this sermon, I happened to pick up a local newspaper and read an article about Bill Phipps, the Moderator of the United Church of Canada. The story was entitled Modern Crusader: United Church leader wants a moral economy and outlined the Moderator's nationwide campaign to speak to the rich and powerful about their failure to respond to the needs of all those who have been victimized by a consumer-minded economy. The campaign was to start off with a one day conference on parliament hill to which MPs, senators and national leaders would be invited.
I have never met Bill Phipps and I have no wish to criticize his or the United Church's appeal on behalf of the poor; but there is something that troubled me about the article. It was the last line in the piece, the one in which Mr. Phipps is quoted as saying: "I think people are really looking for strong, bold leadership that is rooted in the caring, compassionate values that we do hold and they're not getting. That's why a guy like me is striking a chord."
I haven't met Bill Phipps; but I have written to him on behalf of some little people victimized, marginalized and impoverished by the powerful and the rich within the United Church of Canada. Dozens of other people have also written to him on behalf of the same people. My letter was never even acknowledged. Neither were many others. The few that did receive a response were told that the Moderator could not get involved. That is what troubles me.
Jesus didn't just talk about those who needed us. He had time for them. And, although this week's gospel is a stylized attempt to portray Jesus as a champion of the weak and the outcasts, there is little doubt that he was just that. His parables, his aphorisms and the inevitable conflict with the rich and the powerful that eventually ensued as a result of his ministry all point to the fact that in his vision of God's domain "the last will be first" and "the least, the greatest." No one will be ignored.
Christians are called to do more than make pronouncements about justice. They are called to act justly to the people sitting next to them. If we cannot do that, then the world should not take us seriously about calling others to do the same. Charity may not start at home; but it does start with all who make a claim on our love. Our efforts on behalf of others will have no authenticity if we attempt to avoid such closehand responsibilities. Jesus always had time to deal with such claims. So must we. So must the Moderator of the United Church of Canada.
As our opening story for this week indicates, God will not force such an accommodation on us; but she will, it is reasonable to assume, give us all the time we need in order to realise that the person next to us is the one whom we need for our own salvation as much as he or she needs us.
Study and Reflection
2 Samuel 1.1-27 - There are times when I feel compelled to question the motives of those who select scripture passages for the Lectionary. Not only are many stories of the Bible that are embarrassing to Christians and Jews completely omitted, even in ones that are selected verses are carefully omitted. The Lectionary would have us avoid verses 2 to 16 this week. Could it have something to do with the cruel and bloody account of how the future king of Israel responds to an act of kindness?
2 Corinthians 8.7-15 - This week's reading needs to be read in light of chapters 8 and 9, which are devoted to the topic of the collection for the poor in the Jerusalem church. Paul's first concern is with the welfare of those whom the church has taken as their responsibility. His second concern in this passage is the relationship between the Gentile Christians in Corinth and their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. In Paul's day, as in ours, it has been easy for Christians to pick and choose who they call their brothers and sisters and treat in an appropriate manner.
Mark 5.21-43 - Palestine in Jesus' day had "purity codes" that clearly separated "outsiders" from "insiders". In this week's passage, Mark deliberately parallels the plight of two women, one of whom would have been regarded as unclean, the other, a member of a respectable family. In so doing, he not only makes a statement about the plight of the powerless but of Jesus' response to this basic human inequity.
THE HEALING MINISTRY OF JESUS - Although our society and sometimes our churches fail to acknowledge them, there are many people who are restricted by "purity codes" today, people who are pushed aside and made to feel insignificant by those who maintain the status quo. If we are serious about acting the way Jesus did, we will reach out to those who have been marginalized the way Jesus took time to acknowledge and honour the bleeding woman in this week's gospel. It means more than talking about the impoverished and the powerless. It means reaching out to them the way Jesus did. How does your church do this? How do you do it?
HYMN: Friends, Let Us Love Each Other
copyright - Barry Robinson 2000, 2003 page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000, 2003 please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.
Further information on this ministry and the history of "Sermons & Sermon - Lectionary Resources" can be found at our Site FAQ. This site is now associated with christianglobe.com