A reflection on the readings for Proper 12-A
Genesis 29:15-28; Ps. 105:1-11, 45; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 by the Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
There once lived a young man named Francis Bernadone, whose father was a wealthy merchant. One day, young Francis flung open the windows of his father's storehouses and began throwing out yards and yards of fine fabrics, boxes of jewels and the treasures of Italy and the Orient, giving them to the poor. But even this was not enough for Francis. He walked to the center of the town, to the cathedral square, and took off all his clothes and gave them, too, to the poor, and, naked, entered the world -- a world which he now saw as a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven, for Francis of Assisi had found the treasure hidden in the field, the pearl of great price, and so gave away all that he had in order to have this pearl.
Now many good, Christian, faithful people, including the father whose wealth Francis gave away, thought the young man out of his mind, crazy to leave a life of privilege to take care of lepers, live with the poor and beg for his food. Even today we think people like this are crazy. Take Kip Tiernan, the tireless advocate for the homeless in Boston, and the founder of Rosie’s Place, among many other now-respectable means of helping people once considered the equivalent of lepers, the people we avoid and do not want to touch. Kip died earlier this month. Boston Globe columnist James Carroll knew Kip, who always wore a cross around her neck, which marked her, he said
“… not for piety or for a religion of easy answers, but for being, in her words, ‘an angry daughter of Christ. . . . I find that the cross of Jesus is the radical condemnation of an unjust world. You have to stay with the one crucified or stand with the crucifiers.’”
Kip Tiernan and Francis of Assisi were both merchants in search of fine pearls, who sold all that they had in order to have that pearl which is the promise of the justice and peace and plenty which is the kingdom of heaven.
The treasures of the kingdom can also come in smaller, more manageable packages. When Tim and I were married, we chose for the Gospel this same passage from Matthew. Falling in love and nurturing a family is indeed a pearl of great price, for in the bosoms of our families we, too, can find the treasures of the kingdom.
A family, especially the web of relationships which make up a family, can be seen as an icon -- a window through which we can see God -- for when we understand God as the Trinity, we are talking about a web of relationships among three persons, joined together by love.
Now, some families can be dysfunctional and destructive. I must say that reading Genesis this summer shows the founders of the Abrahamic faith – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – as astoundingly poor examples of the “family values” found in traditional, heterosexual marriage, as it is commonly defined today. But for right now, let’s agree to suspend disbelief and not judge Jacob, Rachel and Leah, and their father, Laban, by our standards; it’s nearly impossible to get back on the inside of that long-ago culture.
Part of what joins Francis of Assisi and Kip Tiernan was their common ability to create a space of safety and nurture and love for the most vulnerable people who lived around them. I saw this same thing happen in the soup kitchen at the soup kitchen in the church I served for years -- people for whom the “traditional” concept of “family” does not work, for a variety of reasons, find a place where, for even a short time, they can feel at home.
A family at its best, however you define that family, is as close as we can get to the kingdom of heaven, to the model for human relationships known as the household of God. In Rosie’s Place women’s shelter, or Francis of Assisi's leper colony, in my household, in your household, we all possess that pearl of great price. We know that somewhere the leaven is hidden in the meal, and has the potential to make the whole loaf rise. In order to create our households, our families, we have given up something of value, and we hope in our relationships to model ourselves on the self-giving and self-affirming and interwoven bonds of love that is the Trinity, the God that animates, interpenetrates and embraces each of us and the people with whom we share our lives. In every marriage, with every relationship between parent and child, in every relationship where we agree to build a home together, be it with one other person or a thousand homeless lepers, we hope to find that pearl of great price, which is the justice and equality and peace and security and love which Jesus has promised to all of us in the commonwealth of heaven.
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