Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, June 11, 2023: 

First reading and Psalm
Genesis 12:1-9
Psalm 33:1-12

Alternate First reading and Psalm
Hosea 5:15-6:6
Psalm 50:7-15

Second reading
Romans 4:13-25

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26

     In this Sunday's Gospel, we have a strange assortment of stories that don't seem to go together. We have a story about a tax collector being called to follow Jesus, and then a discussion about who should be eating with who, and a mysterious passage about who needs a doctor and mercy vs. sacrifice. And then we get to the bleeding woman who gets healing and a dead daughter. What on earth do these passages have to do with the first passage?  But when I go back to look at the reading again, I begin to see what unifies it. I begin to see a larger pattern of healing. But it may not be healing in the form we expect.
     Across all of these verses in today’s reading, we see outcasts of all kinds. There are the two women at the end of today’s text, the most obvious outsiders, one bleeding, one dead—both conditions making them beyond the borders of acceptance in an ancient culture. There’s Matthew the tax collector, whose profession puts him outside of acceptability to both Jews and Romans. Jews would hate him because he worked for the occupying empire and made money off their misery; Romans would despise him because he was Jewish. The leader of the synagogue is outside of acceptability; his daughter’s death has compelled him to seek out Jesus, which would not have been OK with his colleagues back at the synagogue. Bible scholars would want us to note that he kneels before Jesus, signifying his inferiority to Jesus. Even the pharisees who want to know why Jesus shares a meal with sinners have cast themselves out from the society gathered around Jesus in this passage.
     But what does this have to do with us?
     The truth is that we live in a society that is rigid and stratified in similar ways to first century Rome. We live in an empire that is still in thrall to the military-industrial complex, and so we live under a current state of war and preparation for the next war. We live with traumatized survivors of past wars and families ripped apart. We take money that could be used to feed people to feed the war machine. War weapons are used against civilians: every week brings another school shooting, massacres of all sorts. And even if we can maintain a healthy distance from the military-industrial complex, we live in a capitalist empire that wants us to buy more, more, more, and so we are bombarded with messages of how we are inadequate in the hopes that we will buy more and more. And to make matters worse, we willingly carry the tools of empire’s oppression with us all the time. How long can you go without looking at your phone? How often is your phone sending you the message that you are a beloved creation of God? Not often, I bet.
     Maybe in our focus on the healing miracles, we’ve missed the point. We’ve focused on the individual healings and lost sight of the larger resurrection Jesus offers. Jesus came to heal our communities, to raise the larger society from the dead. And this healing happens by inclusion, outsiders made insiders, the realization that we are all outsiders desperately in need of inclusion. Jesus announces a kingdom of God that will be very different than the kingdoms of earthly empires.
     As a society, we’ve been hemorrhaging our very life force for much too long. Many of our communities are as dead as the daughter of the synagogue leader. Like the Pharisees, we ask questions about who is eating with who instead of asking essential questions about the best way to live our lives, the most life-giving ways to order our societies. We are in desperate need of a physician.
     I suspect that many of us feel Matthew. We do work that doesn’t feel essential—or worse, we do work that helps an empire repress the people we claim as our own. But the Gospels remind us again and again, that God offers us an invitation to a life that can come in the middle of our living death. Jesus invites us to put down our cell phones and follow. Jesus invites us into a new community built on inclusion. The ways we create an inclusive community are as vast and varied as we are. When in doubt follow Jesus’ lead: invite people to dinner. Reach out to women with chronic health problems; reach out to anyone with a chronic condition. Jesus invites us to follow him.
     I hope you will say yes to the call of Jesus in the ways that only you can.
     Will you?

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