Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions   1 comment

Above:  Christ Carrying the Cross (1580), by El Greco

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ecclesiasticus 36:1-2, 5-6, 13-17 (Revised English Bible):

Look on us with pity, Lord God of all,

and strike fear in every nation.

Let them learn, as we ourselves have learned,

that there is not god but you, O Lord.

Renew your signs, repeat your miracles,

with glory for your mighty hand and right arm.

Show mercy to the city of your sanctuary,

to the city of Jerusalem, your dwelling-place.

Fill Zion with the praise of your triumph

and the temple with your glory.

Acknowledge those you created at the beginning

and fulfill the prophecies spoken in your name.

Reward those who look to you in trust;

prove your prophets worthy of credence.

Listen, O Lord, to the prayer of your servants,

who claim Aaron’s blessing on your people.

Let all who live on earth acknowledge

that you are the Lord, the eternal God.

Psalm 79:8-13 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10 Why should the heathen say, “Where is their God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servant’s blood.

11 Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12 May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13 For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Mark 10:32-45 (Revised English Bible):

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe, while those who followed behind were afraid.  Once again he took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.

We are now going up to Jerusalem,

he said,

and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles.  He will be mocked and spat upon, and flogged and killed; and three days afterwards, he will rise again.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said,

Teacher, we should like you to do us a favour.”

He asked,

What is it you want me to do for you?

They answered,

Allow us to sit with you in your glory, one at your right hand and the other at your left.

Jesus said to them,

You do not understand what you are asking.  Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

They answered,

We can,

Jesus said,

The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism that I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit on my right or on my left is not for me to grant; that honour is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

When the other ten heard this, they were indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them to him and said,

You know that among the Gentiles the recognized rulers lord it over their subjects, and the great make their authority felt.  It shall not be so with you; among you whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

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The Collect:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The readings from Sirach and Psalms come from circumstances of national distress.  Psalm 79 comes from the aftermath of the Chaldean (Babylonian) destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Sirach comes from the time after the return from this exile.  The Jews were home, but they were still subject to foreign nations.  And the descendants many Gentiles who had settled in the Jewish homeland remained.  Gentiles lost their land claims.  Religious, ethnic, and cultural conflicts erupted, of course.  So it is not surprising that the full texts of Psalm 79 and Sirach 36 contain much anger toward foreigners.

These readings contain pleas for divine mercy during such difficult times.  It was certainly a feeling that many in First Century C.E. Palestine understood.  Here were Jews living in their homeland, but under Roman occupation and with many Gentiles settled among them.  National glory was something from a past nobody remembered firsthand.  And was not the Messiah supposed to expel all those foreigners?

Speaking of the Messiah, Jesus did not expel any foreigner.  No, he even found great faith among some of them.  Jesus is like that:  not what many people expect or want him to be.

When reading the Gospel of Mark, it is very important to pay close attention to how material is grouped.  For example, this day’s reading flows directly from recent readings about children, a camel passing through the eye of a needle,  and predictions of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.  It seems that some Apostles have not been paying enough attention.  The author of Mark has James and John, sons of Zebedee, ask for glorious positions relative to Jesus.  Note, however, that, in the parallel reading in Matthew 20:20-28, their mother makes the request.  The two are versions of the same story, based on a close reading of them.  (Read them for yourself.)

The other Apostles are angry with James and John, probably because they were jockeying for position, too.  “How dare you two get there first?” the other seemed to ask.  At least that is my interpretation.

Anyhow, Jesus says that the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wants to be the greatest must be the lowliest servant.  And, by the way, he will suffer, die and rise again.  I have read this before in Mark.  But here we have these statements repeated.  We humans do not always listen closely enough often enough, do we?  Sometimes “our tapes are running,” so we hear but do not listen.  Jesus says something plainly, but we do not understand, so he has not communicated with us.  The fault is with us, not Jesus.

I propose that the communication breaks down at our end because Jesus contradicts many of our assumptions.  He cannot mean what the words seem to indicate, can he?  Yes, he can.  How often do we need him to repeat himself?  How dense are we?

The Kingdom of God is an inverted order relative to the traditional social arrangements.  According to Matthew 5:3-11 and Luke 6:20-26, the physically hungry will be filled.  Those who are spiritually impoverished will have spiritual abundance.  Those who mourn and weep will laugh.  The meek will inherit the earth.  The merciful will not get run over and taken advantage of; they will receive mercy.  The peacemakers will not be marginalized in a militaristic and angry society; they will be called sons and daughters of God.  The persecuted will triumph in God.  Those reviled for the sake of righteousness will rejoice.  The rich have received their consolation, the well-fed will be hungry, and those laughing now will mourn and weep.  And being well-regarded in polite society does not indicate favor with God.

And, as we have read today, the first will be last, and the last will be first.  Anyone who wishes to be the greatest must be the servant of all.  I know that this is repetitive, but so was Jesus.  Some statements bear repeating.

So, after almost 2,000 years of repetition, why have we not understood yet?  Why are so many of us who claim to follow Jesus so dense?  We are invested in and acculturated to the dominant social arrangements.  It is not that the Kingdom of God is upside-down; we are.

Lord, have mercy.

We need to be right side-up.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 5, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHRISTIAN FREDERICK HEYER, BARTHOLOMEW ZIEGENBALG, AND LUDWIG NOMMENSEN, LUTHERAN PASTORS

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/05/week-of-8-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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One response to “Jesus, Who Contradicts Many of Our Assumptions

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  1. Pingback: Week of 8 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 1 « ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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