jtemplate.ru - free extensions for joomla

July 6, 2018 - Unexpected Reversals

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings

Many of the people in my family are, or have been, farmers.  Consequently I’ve heard many farming stories in my life.  At this point, I have no idea at all what happened to which of my family members, or indeed whether the stories are true at all.  But one of them is the story of a family who went to church one morning, and while they were at church, they heard rain, then hail.  The hail, of course, would ruin their crop.  Some people left the service to go attend to their crops, but this family did not.  In fact, this family observed Sabbath-keeping, and so did no work at all on Sundays.

The cost to the family was great, in terms of lost crops.  Many people in the town pitied them and their faithfulness, because it had cost them so much.  But the father of the family maintained that this was no real loss for them, a statement that mystified many.

 How do we begin to make sense of this kind of thing – an event happens which most people see as terrible, but which the recipients view as a kind of grace?  Today’s scriptures mention similar kinds of reversals, where the unexpected comes into view as the good thing.

For example, today’s gospel (Matthew 9:9-13) is the story of Jesus calling Matthew, the tax collector, to be his disciple.  Usually we think of Jesus being a great friend of the poor, which he was, but in this case, Matthew is one of the town’s most wealthy citizens.  Jesus not only calls Matthew, but dines with him at his table.

The Pharisees have questions about Jesus’ actions here, and this is where another reversal occurs.  We do not usually think of those who have money as people who are sick, but Jesus names tax collectors and sinners as the ones in need of a physician.  And what kind of healing is it that Jesus does?  It, too, is unexpected, for his method of healing is to bring people together, at a table, and try to heal the rifts in society.

Today’s Old Testament lesson (Amos 8:4-6, 9-12) and psalm (119) remind us again of the theme that for God, doing actions that generally lead to being wealthy, like seeking to shortcut observance of the Sabbath in order to make more money, are not the best actions.  That kind of action is never ending, for a person can never quit trying to get ahead if his or her motive is always to make more money (or gain more power, etc.)

Jesus says, quoting the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.”  In this context, perhaps we can reverse the way we understand sacrifice and mercy.  Mercy is not the opportunity to go to the market and sell more wheat (as in the first passage) or to leave a church service in order to save the crop.  This is personal sacrifice, in a negative sense, for that frame of reference leaves us always seeking more and better possessions, selling more, without ever being content.  Mercy, for ourselves, on the other hand, might be exactly something like keeping the Sabbath, allowing ourselves to rest from desires of the world and realize that the world’s safe keeping does not depend on us.

- Jana M. Bennett