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Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

The passage from Isaiah 55 begins with a call for everyone to come and “buy” wine and milk without money and without price—to “eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2) The prophet poses the question, “Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” I don’t believe he means for us to take this as referring to literal food or bread. Psalm 63:1 also speaks of the soul thirsting for God, with the promise, in verse 5, of it being “satisfied as if with a rich feast.” This week’s epistle also speaks of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink,” drink coming from a “spiritual rock” which is Christ.

Isaiah is addressing a nation which is in danger of forgetting its roots and the source of its life—similar to circumstances we talked about a couple of week’s ago. He reminds them that the ultimate source of life is “the Lord.” “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” He wants them to remember the purpose of their life and mission, what is truly important and satisfying in their search for meaning in life. When we look into the deep inner places which motivate us, what do we find that brings us fulfillment and how do we feed those places and help those things grow?

Now I recognize that the epistle and Gospel lessons also contain verses we find troubling. They seem to depict a vengeful God. I Corinthians speaks of those who “were struck down in the wilderness” and “twenty-three thousand” who “fell in a single day.” (I Corinthians 10:5-8) In Luke, Jesus himself is described as speaking of Galileans killed by Pilate and eighteen killed “when the tower of Siloam fell on them.” (Luke 13:2-4)

To be honest, these stories stretch me beyond where my mind stretches, but here they seem to be used to make two similar points. In both I Corinthians and Luke (and perhaps back in Isaiah) it is pride that is being addressed. People are sometimes prone to point to other people’s suffering and say it is God’s punishment on them—Pat Robertson commenting on the earthquake in Haiti, for instance. The warning in I Corinthians 10:12 is to watch out when we start pointing the finger at other people. My father used to say, “When you are pointing at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you.” Proverbs 16:18-19 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

In Luke, Jesus underlines the fact that we are all equally sinners, a sentiment Paul also stated, in Romans 3:23—“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Neither Lent nor any other time are times for pointing at others. They are times to turn inward and ask where we fall short and what spiritual nourishment we need to achieve inner healing and fulfillment.

Finally, the parable of the fig tree in the reading from Luke: It tells of a man who had a fig tree in his vineyard and it was bearing no fruit. He tells the gardener to cut it down, but the gardener says, “Give it another year and let me put some manure around it.” We’re back to the theme of feeding. Feed the fig tree some manure and perhaps it will bear fruit. Feed our souls so that our lives bear fruit.

One interpreter takes the fig tree as a symbol of our impatience with all that doesn’t live up to our standards (the theme of “pride” again?). For many, the first response may be, “Cut it down.” I don’t like that person so I’m going to cut him or her out of my life. Those people are different so let’s cut them down. It’s an attitude that operates in organizational, national, and international life, even in church life (those people don’t believe like we do, so let’s make cutting remarks about them). The parable suggests that maybe instead of cutting them down we should be finding ways to feed them (build more schools in Afghanistan instead of wielding more weapons?). If we see God as the gardener (as Jesus may have intended), we are reminded that God is a patient feeder of souls rather than one who is anxious to breathe the fire of judgment upon us.

Lots to chew on this week. Have a good meal!

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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