instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings

Persistence

Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Psalm 119:97-104  •  Genesis 32:22-31 and Psalm 121  •  2 Timothy 3:14-4:5  •  Luke 18:1-8

 

    Today's story from Luke takes a little unpacking. What's happening is an unjust judge, one who could care less about justice. The way justice worked in Hebrew culture at the time was that people had to bring their own case against their opponents: there was no local district attorney's office keeping the law. To be justified in this world meant that the judge saw things according to one side: here, according to the widow's view.

 

    Widows in the time of Jesus were a vulnerable group. Whether this particular widow was bringing up a legitimate matter, however, Jesus does not say. She might have had a serious worry; on the other hand, she might have been the kind of person who saw everything as a problem, quickly raising an alarm whenever there was the slightest suggestion of a threat to her. Whatever the case, the judge was vexed by her persistence and apparently a little afraid of what might happen next.

 

    The Genesis reading, part of a longer story, provides a story of a person who definitely has something to worry about. At this point in the narrative, Jacob is sleepless, knowing that in the morning he will face his twin brother, Esau, from whom he had earlier stolen a huge inheritance. His brother is across the river with 400 men bearing arms. Jacob has his wives, children, slaves, oxen, donkeys, camels and sheep with him. Up all night, wrestling with a mysterious figure and also presumably with what he had done in his life, by dawn Jacob finds himself blessed and ready to reconcile with his brother.

 

    Although these are very different stories, they have a couple of things in common. The first is a common thread of the complexity of justice. Jacob had used deceit to take from a brother who, for his part, could not be bothered to care about the family's fortune – who had been more interested in grabbing lunch than in attending to the future (Genesis 25:29). Jesus does not even bother to set up the Luke story in a way that lets us know whether the widow's request was in the right, suggesting that the point of the story had nothing to do with assigning blame. Both stories reflect the complexity of life, the necessity of getting beyond finding a scapegoat to understand the patterns happening around us.

 

    Secondly, both stories are about being persistent. The widow and Jacob had identified what mattered to them. Jacob would not let the mysterious figure go. The widow would not let the judge off the hook. Both were willing to put themselves on the line for what they thought was important. 

 

Reflections

Morning:   What am I worried about today? Where would I like to be less fretful and more persistent? When does blame get in the way?

Evening: How did I manage my worries today? How can I put them aside at the end of the day?

Be the first to comment

The Thankless 90%

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12  •  2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111  •  2 Timothy 2:8-15  •  Luke 17:11-19

 

    Today's reading from Luke begins with Jesus and his crew, travelling to Jerusalem. It's a simple story. On the way, ten lepers approach and beg to be healed. Jesus tells them to show themselves to the priest, a local community requirement related to infectious disease control. While heading to the priest, they are healed. Of the ten, one stops and goes back to Jesus to give thanks. Jesus, first noting that this person is a foreigner – from a much looked-down-upon part of the world – tells him to go on his way, crediting his faith for making him well.

 

    I wonder what happened to the other nine – the thankless 90%. After they had been to the priest, then did they think to give thanks? Did they tell the story of how it happened, to include Jesus as the healer; or did they come to see it differently, as a coincidence? Did the difficulties of the years of living with their illness stay with them? Did their healing fade from their memory, as they went back into the challenges of daily living? And did they stay well?

 

    In a way, the thankless 90% returned home basically unchanged, except for a surface healing of an underlying condition. The story in second Kings chapter five also starts with a person in need of healing from a skin condition. Naaman, at the beginning of the story, is clearly in danger of becoming part of the 90%. He sees healing as a transaction, bringing plenty of currency to purchase his cure. Elisha, though, sees healing as a gift: a gift available to a person humble enough to go wash seven times in a muddy river.  

 

    Life can be a humbling experience.  Naaman had one lesson in humility when he heard through his wife's servant about a prophet in Israel, one who could heal. But he failed the test on this lesson, when he showed up in Israel ready to pay for the healing. His next lesson came from his servants, with him on the trip, who convince him to bathe in the Jordan river. The servants, not the master, were able to take the long view, while he was stuck in a singularly unhelpful, isolated perspective regarding his own dilemma. By the end of the story, he is seeing a much bigger picture of the world and his own small place in it.

 

    Most of the time – nine times out of ten, maybe – a person cannot see the bigger picture of his or her life. An early warning sign of the problem is the lack of gratitude towards others. A more reality-based perspective, like that of the leper who returned to thank Jesus, comes with staying connected to others. In the end, regardless of one's own gifts and talents or lack thereof, humility and its cousin, gratitude, simply make sense.

 

For reflection:

Morning: Who am I grateful for today? How can I express my gratitude?

Evening: What do I have to be grateful for today? Where can I see a bigger picture of those who have contributed to my life?

Be the first to comment

No Thanks Needed

Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137  •  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9  •  2 Timothy 1:1-14  •  Luke 17:5-10

 

    This week's Luke reading is as confusing as it is brief. First, Jesus is talking about a mustard seed. Then he is telling this awful story about a boss telling a tired servant – or slave, possibly – to come in from the field and keep working until all the boss' needs are met. Then and only then, the servants eat, saying that after all they have only done their duty. How do we make sense of these verses?

 

    Beginning with the servant story, I am reminded of a time, years ago, when we lived in Korea. This was the early 1980s, and we were renting a second-floor apartment above the owners, a Korean family. It was a different world from the U.S., to say the least. At that time, Koreans lived in very small spaces – small but kept impeccably clean. Our landlady spent a few days of watching me struggle with a new baby in a new country where I did not speak the language nor know anyone besides my spouse. Then she strongly suggested that we hire her housekeeper, part-time.

 

    We called her "Agima," Korean for aunt, and a general term of respect for any adult woman. Looking back, I can't imagine what Agima thought when she first walked into our apartment. By her standards, it was way below minimum. We were still wearing shoes – inside! No Korean would ever have done so, and we soon stopped. I began observing a level of cleanliness beyond anything I had imagined. Every day she came, Agima squatted, wet mopping every inch of every floor with a tub of water and damp cloths as she made her way through our home. She washed our clothes on a scrub board, hung them out to dry, and ironed as needed. Not only that, but Agima was wonderful with our baby, often carrying him around on her back as she went about her day. No one had to tell her what to do; she was a consummate professional.

 

    "Thank-you" was one of the first words I learned how to say in Korean. But saying it to Agima only brought a puzzled look on her face. My poor pronunciation aside, her reaction told me something else. Thank-you was inappropriate. She was not doing this to gain my approval, praise, or thanks. She was operating from her own internal standards of how a home should be kept, and she was the judge of her own efforts.

 

    Like Agima, the servants in the Luke story took pride in what they were doing. They recognized its worth and were completely uninterested in whether anyone else noticed. In a way, they were like the mustard seed referenced in verse 6. Mustard seeds are small but mighty: an invasive species that can change the character of an entire garden. If you have ever tried to get rid of kudzu, or bamboo, or even an herb like mint, you get the picture. Once these plants get started, they are hard to stop. Although this may be a problem for the gardener, it can have an upside for the individual. Anytime a person is operating from internal principles, without reference to the praise or condemnation of others, a wellspring of energy is tapped. Once found, this wellspring – deep within self – is hard to contain.

 

For Reflection

Morning: What do I have energy for today? What is important to me to do well? Before I begin, where do I need to think through my own ideas and principles?

Evening: Where was I clear about what I was trying to do? What difference did it make? When did I begin to second guess myself?

Be the first to comment