In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Proper 15 A

A reflection the readings for Proper 15A: Genesis 45:1-15 or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Psalm 133 or Psalm 67, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28; by Janine Goodwin

(I did an in-depth study of the Markan version of this Gospel for this blog in 2009: it can be found here

This time around, I read all the possible readings for the week and found myself seeing a theme. Except in the psalms, each of the writers is insisting that God is doing something new, that God’s way of acting is not what we thought it was. In each passage, someone is taking an experience and interpreting it in a new way, seeing God’s actions in the world differently than they have ever seen them before.

This takes faith, humility, and courage. Look at these stories.

Joseph’s brothers would have let him die of thirst alone in the desert, yet he sees everything that has happened to him as God’s way of letting him save their lives. Joseph finds the grace in a confluence of ugly situations—sibling rivalry, famine, and all the struggles that brought him to power—and acts out of love, not vengeance.

Isaiah offers inclusion to anyone who hears his words—not just to his own people, but to foreigners. “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” This may well have seemed like a false prophecy to many of its original hearers; it is a departure from the parts of Scripture that condemn outsiders.

Paul, working at the beginning of the Christian church, insists that God has not turned away from the faith from which it came. Like Joseph and Isaiah, he is not interested in excluding, even when he was excluded.

Jesus learns something new from a feisty woman, an outsider, a person in need who won’t back down. Her argument takes him into new territory. He goes beyond what he has been taught about people from different places and different faiths. He sees need and faith. He responds.

Sometimes I forget that all scripture was new once; I need to remember more often that it came out of a need not just to remember what had always been, but to share that God has done something new.

God has done something new.

It takes faith to say that, because it is a step into the unknown. It means we could be wrong. Joseph could have been wrong; his brothers could have been waiting to trick him again. Isaiah could have been a false prophet. Paul was in the chaotic middle of a new church, arguing with those who taught him. Jesus was facing a situation he’d never faced. It takes faith in a God we cannot entirely know, but can sometimes hear, to be able to say God has done something new.

It takes humility to say that. If we are not careful, our knowledge of scripture and history, even our own reason and experience, can lead us into the pride that says we know all about God—and that others do not. It can be all too easy for us to say that God wouldn’t say this or do that or go there. If we put scripture in the past and ignore the fact that it is a lively and often contradictory conversation across centuries, we can believe that we know it all and we can iron out the differences—that we have a comprehensive view of God instead of vivid and changing glimpses. We might think we have God under control, and miss our chance to see God doing something new.

It takes courage to point out something new. Others, often others that are more powerful and numerous than we are, may not agree, and things could get ugly. People lose jobs, friends, communities. Rifts open that may never close. Faiths have divided again and again when some saw God doing something new and others did not. If we are wrong, we could lead others astray. It would be easier not to point out that we see God doing something new. It takes courage to live by the new knowledge, to give up what seemed solid and secure and move into the unknown with what we are learning.

Even when we have the faith, humility, and courage to say, “I believe God is doing something new, and this is what it is,” we have to ground the experience of the new in respect for tradition. The God who is saying new things is also one we know through scripture and tradition, and what we see must answer to what others have seen; they have their wisdom and knowledge of God, and we may not put them aside lightly. When God says something new, that does not necessarily mean that something old is wrong. It is sad that traditionalists and progressives choose sides instead of discerning together. We should not forget either the old or the new.

There must also be respect for those who do not and will not agree with us. As a feminist living in an area where churches are primarily fundamentalist, I live and work among Christians with whom I disagree on many points. If I become judgmental, proud, or bitter toward them, I am not living in the light of the Gospel. When I remember that Jesus included all kinds of people and did not require them to agree with each other on every point, I am faced with the task of figuring out how to disagree with integrity and love yet without pride. Some of the people around me may not believe that it is their task, too; it is not my job to convince them, but to do what I believe I am called to do. Sometimes we find a way to live together in partial unity and the promise of the Psalms can be fulfilled to some small degree. Wanting unity frees my soul from resentment and opens my heart to love, and also to grief.

I am giving up on the idea that God is doing something new that is totally different, pristine, and perfect: the vision can be amazing but it must have some continuity with the past, and it can be grand, but everything that follows it is going to be messy, incomplete, and have no guarantee of success. I may not always see that God is doing something new; if I see, I may not interpret perfectly; if someone else sees it, I may have a hard time with it. All I can do is pay attention and pray for faith, humility, and courage.

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1 comment:

Jacqueline Schmitt said...

thoughtful and clear - many thanks! Complicated lessons, but you put them together in a very rich way.