Powered by Blogger.

Follow by Email


Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16, OR Sirach 10:12-18 and Psalm 112:1-10, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

One might conclude from this week’s lectionary readings that the root of all evil is human pride, our tendency to think we, and sometimes we alone, have all the answers, and that those answers are better than anybody else’s answers. If the words of scripture are not enough, all we have to do is turn to the political, religious, and cultural scene of our day. When is the last time we saw humility demonstrated in political debate? I really worry about the vehemence behind misguided understandings and attitudes toward Islam. Are they really out to get us—all of them? Do we not see the variations in the ways they interpret their scriptures, just as there are variations among Christians? Would we all want to be defined by some of the shrill voices of Christianity?
Well, enough of an introduction. You can see that even I am in danger of losing my humility in the discussion going on around us. Most of us, at one time or another, in public debate or in the quiet recesses of our mind fail the humility test.
God, in the passage from Jeremiah, seems to think human beings have gotten a little arrogant. We humans are not the only ones to ask the “Why?” question. We ask why bad things happen. God’s struggle puts a little different twist on it. He wants to know why we choose ways that lead to self-destruction. After all, God has shown us the way that leads to life. “Why did you turn away from me?” he asks. You arrogantly went off on your own because you thought your answers—your ways—were better. You didn’t even look around to see where I was or remember the “plentiful land” into which I led you. (Jeremiah 2:5-7) You went after “things that do not profit.” (vs. 8) You “have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns . . ., cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
Parts of Psalm 81 echo this sentiment. “ . . . my people did not listen to me voice . . . O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! . . . I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Is this where the female African-American musical group gets its name?)
In several of this week’s passages there are elements of judgment, although they are not where I’m primarily focusing my attention. In Psalm 81, the judgment is more a matter of God allowing us to go our stubborn way. “So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” (vs. 12) We are quite capable of behaving in ways that bring bad results—for ourselves and for others. Why or why do we behave that way—bad mouthing whole groups of people, entering into seemingly futile wars trying to impose our ways on others, trying to prove that we are better or stronger or more worthy? Why do we do it? Maybe it’s just a matter of inertia as suggested by the question Sam Keen asks, “Why do people prefer known hells to unknown heavens?” It’s easier to go along with the crowd, to take the comfortable path, to do what we’ve always done.

But I think it’s more. Some of today’s scriptures specifically pinpoint “pride.” The reading from Sirach will not be found in Protestant or Hebrew Bibles (unless they include the Apocrypha). It’s a writing from the 2nd century before the Christian era, credited to Jesus Ben Sirach. It is akin to the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures—books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes—and is included in Catholic Bibles.
The reading we are given this week describes turning from the ways of God as an act of pride (See Sirach 10:1-2), ending with the cryptic saying: “Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.” (vs. 18) The puzzling way in which those words are put together raise as many questions as they answer. Whatever else they may mean or imply, however, they are clear that pride is not something productively pursued or expressed by human beings.
Although the Gospel lesson from Luke 14 does not use the word “pride,” it offers an example of what pride looks like. Jesus goes to Sunday (Sabbath) dinner at the home of a Pharisee and notices all the people jockeying for the best seats. (vss. 1 & 7) He tells some parables suggesting that the proper place to sit is “at the lowest place.” (vss. 8-10) I’m a little suspicious about the motivation of the folk in Jesus’ parable. They seem to still covet those best places, simply biding their time until they’re invited to move up. Jesus quickly turns, however, to who should be invited in the first place—not “your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors” but “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” (vss. 12-13) Why? Because the first group will invite you to dinner at their house and you will be repaid. The second group can’t repay you.
Humility is the key, stated in verse 11: “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Humility is doing good without expecting to be repaid. Oh, there is an eternal reward, but it is not about position at the table; it is not about showing how much better you are than someone else. It is about service.
Pride and humility are contrasting approaches in human relationships, in actions taken by individuals, congregations, tribes, or nations. The second Psalm (112) and the reading from Hebrews remind us that humility seeks the welfare of those around us. Psalm 112 talks about being “gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice . . . They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor . . .” (vss. 4-5 & 9)
Hebrews describes it in terms of “hospitality to strangers,” remembering “those who are in prison” and “those who are being tortured,” warning against “the love of money.” (Hebrews 13:2-3 & 5) All of these are put in the context of “mutual love.” Humility means letting “mutual love continue.” (vs. 1) The Hebrews reading concludes with the instruction: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.” (vs. 16)
Years ago, the Boston Industrial Mission developed a little mantra that struck a chord with many of us. “Use less, enjoy it more, and share what you have with others.” It’s simplistic (although not always simple to put into practice), but it is perhaps a beginning point for living a life of humility. There’s much more. Humility needs to spill over and permeate the political and cultural milieu, but the simple instruction of Hebrews 13:1, “Let mutual love continue,” is something we can all take to heart.


Post a Comment

Blog Description

Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

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

Subscribe Now: RSS Feed

Blog Archive