Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, July 12, 2009:

First Reading: Amos 7:7-15

First Reading (Semi-cont.): 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Psalm: Psalm 85:8-13

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 24

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

Gospel: Mark 6:14-29

I've always been fascinated by the people who see God as a sort of cosmic Santa Claus. I had one friend who claimed that if she prayed to God for a parking space, one would open up. She believed that if your life wasn't working out, it was a sign that you needed to pray harder. I heard a colleague declare that he wasn't worried about economic downturns because "The Psalms tell us that the righteous will never beg for bread on the streets" (ironically, he was fired a year after he said this). I wonder what these two people would tell John the Baptist.

Surely John the Baptist is a righteous man. It's hard to imagine such a grisly end to such a powerful prophet is justified.

Of course, it's not justified. There's nothing just about what happens to John the Baptist. He's killed on a whim, to please Herod's lover. It's not like he had a trial and was found guilty and therefore had to be beheaded.

I hate to have to say this, but it's not an unusual outcome for the prophets. It's not an unusual outcome for Christians throughout the centuries. We are not promised riches and fame if we follow God. On the contrary, the Scriptures (both the Old Testament and the New Testament) are quite clear that we may face great suffering.

I see a theme in our recent Gospel readings. Last week, Jesus isn't accepted by his hometown. Recently we saw the disciples sent out two by two, sent out with nothing but what they wear, and they're told to expect rejection. If we follow Jesus, we can't say that we haven't been warned.

Church growth people must be banging their heads against the wall. These promises and warnings are not the kinds of things that entice the unchurched. No wonder we see the recent explosions of Prosperity Gospel books and telecasts.

So, why follow the risen Christ? What's in it for us, besides suffering and martyrdom?

The rest of the Scriptures remind us of the promises and rewards. The world would tell us that we should look for wealth or fame or power, but those aren't the kinds of rewards the Scriptures promise the faithful. However recent news stories (the Michael Jackson coverage, the recent scandal of the South Carolina governor and the Alaska governor) might offer a cautionary tale about how empty a reward fame and riches and power can be.

Jesus offers us a life of fellowship: fellowship with each other, fellowship with God. Psychologists would tell us that humans long for fellowship and that feeling that love and acceptance can be what keeps us healthy and whole (much more than money or fame or power can ever do).

Jesus offers us a chance to be part of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom where everyone has enough and everyone feels that love. Of course, the catch is that the Kingdom isn't here yet. We have to help build it. We've caught glimpses of it breaking through. It's both now and not yet, this elusive Kingdom. But when we feel/glimpse/experience/live it, we know that it's worth whatever we must endure for the sake of it.

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