Lectionary Reflections for August 5, 2012
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Today’s readings reflect on the contrast between life in relationship and life in alienation from God and others. Disconnected from God’s relational vision, we literally and figuratively destroy our planetary companions. We use our power to exploit and see others as a means to our gratification. Connected with God, we support others’ well-being as necessary for our own spiritual growth and material prosperity. Joined in loyalty to the body of Christ; there is no “other.”
The encounter of David and Nathan is a classic “gotcha” moment. Nathan spins a story of injustice that rightly angers David to the point that the King asserts that the rich robber deserves to die. After a moment’s pause, the prophet retorts “You are the man.” Taken aback by Nathan’s boldness, David recognizes that his behavior in relationship with Bathsheba is the epitome of injustice: sleeping with Uriah’s wife and then having Uriah murdered in battle. My evangelical friends use the term “convicted” to refer to such moments of self-discovery; moments in which our collusion with the powers of evil, our turning away from God’s way, becomes obvious even to us. David’s only choice is to repent, face the consequences of his actions, and seek to minimize the negative impact of his infidelity on the nation.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So history goes in the time of David and our own time. Dare the preacher draw the conclusion that “we are the ones,” either explicitly or implicitly as citizens of the USA, about which Nathan speaks? We exploit the poor to maintain the American way of life. We have waged wars and staged coups over the price of oil, coffee, iron ore, and bananas. We benefit from injustice, both here and abroad, and most of the time we see it as the normal state of affairs, not a violation of God’s law or an infliction of pain on God. We cannot blame others for “hating” us once we recognize our role in their poverty and powerlessness. But, we can repent and change our ways personally and politically.
This passage could easily elicit protests – whining is a better word – about “class warfare,” a term typically not invoked by the marginalized or underrepresented (despite accusations by the wealthy) but by the wealthy and powerful themselves to defend the status quo, their political and economic prerogatives, and challenge any criticism of the business practices and tax policies that have led to their affluence. Sadly, the “haves” take little or no responsibility for the relationship between their wealth and others’ misery.
While God loves everyone, this passage leaves any of us who enjoy (indirectly or directly) the benefits of injustice feeling more than a little defensive. It is patently obvious that tax policy favors the wealthy; programs subsidizing the wealthy are left intact while programs providing basic safety nets for the poor are jeopardized.
Psalm 51 challenges our spiritual and material complacency. We need mercy and we need it badly! In its indictment of our moral and spirit callousness, Psalm 51 raises some key theological issues:
- What does it mean to say “against God only have I sinned?” (v. 4)
- In what ways is God justified in “God’s sentence” and punishment? (v. 4)
- What does it mean to say “I was born in iniquity….conceived in sin?” (v. 5)
- What does “divine bone-breaking” mean? (v. 8)
- What does it mean to be “cast away” from God’s presence? (v. 11)
- Can God’s Holy Spirit be taken away from us? (v. 11)
Taken literally or individualistically, these passages can lead to disastrous theological and spiritual results. This implies that only our relationship with God matters; our suffering always reflects divine punishment; that God directly harms us and will withdraw God’s love from us; and that our very conception and birth is an abomination. We are born evil, the result of doing the “nasty,” and are always at risk from divine abandonment.
I take a different approach. Seen in terms of the dynamic interdependence of life, any sin against the creature is also a sin against the Creator; God feels our pain and the pain of creation as well as God’s own pain in relationship to the world. When we hurt our fellow creatures, we hurt God. When we ignore or violate creation, we violate God, stifling God’s vision of Shalom. Our punishment is not God’s withdrawal or divine destruction, but limiting God’s presence in the world and reducing God’s presence in the world. Through it all, we depend on God’s grace to create a new heart and new pathways of healing and transforming for us. In opening to God’s whole-heartedness, new possibilities emerge that transform our sin (despite its continued impact) into graceful transformation.
There is no evil to sexuality – we are not born as sinful – but are shaped by the brokenness of our societies. Sin is a relational problem, not an ontological reality infecting every child. There is pain from objectification but this does not nullify the goodness of creation and the wonder of the intimacy that brings forth new life.
Ephesians 4 charts the behaviors necessary for our claiming our place in the body of Christ. These are behaviors of affirmation, connection, and unity. We are one in Christ, each gifted through Christ, but can only fully live our unity and joyful diversity through transformed perception and action. Like I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 joins unity and diversity in the life of community: God loves diversity; God rejoices in our many gifts and vocations. God delights in unity that is kaleidoscopic, prismatic, and multifaceted. The beloved community embraces every color of the rainbow, including those we haven’t discovered, and provides a place for the gifts of all creation.
“I am the bread of life.” Jesus gives us the bread of everlasting life; soul food and not fast food.
Feasting on Christ’s bread gives substance to every meal: apart from the abundant life God provides and promises – the abundance of interdependence and relationship with God – nothing can satisfy. Aware of our connections with God and one another, every meal is Eucharistic. Connected with divine abundance, there is no need to horde; no need for injustice, manipulation, or marginalization. We experience the peace that comes from connecting our well-being with the well-being of others, not only our community but the whole universe. Nourished by divine bread, we become large-spirited, having the mind of Christ that embraces the body of Christ – not only in the church but in the world – in all its wondrous variety.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.