Lectionary Reflections for November 11, 2012
Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17; Psalm 42; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
This week’s lectionary readings deal with some of the most important energies of life – the energy of romance, conception, and sexuality; the energy of money and its proper use; the energetic quest for God in a difficult time; and the energetic field of force created by Christ, the high priest of wholeness.
The Baal Shem Tov, the Master of a Good Name (Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer), the 18th century mystic and founder of Hasidic Judaism, is reputed to have said: “From every human life there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls that are destined to find each other meet at last, their two streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.” These words could easily describe the courtship and marriage of Ruth and Boaz. Today’s reading begins with a study in seduction, perhaps, even spiritual seduction. A spark has been lit between Ruth and Boaz and Naomi, her mother-in-law, counsels Ruth about how to transform this spark to a torch that will join this couple’s respective lights. It appears that Naomi is not advising Ruth to hold a prayer meeting or theological conversation with Boaz. Rather, what is going on between them is physical attraction, pure and simple, and the promise of consummation and marriage. But, is this physical attraction purely materialistic and brutish, or does their sexual attraction and sexuality in general partake in divine intentionality?
Do you remember the controversies surrounding The Last Temptation of Christ or The Di Vinci Code? Or the interest sparked by a recently-discovered 4th century papyrus in which words, attributed to Jesus, say “my wife?” While Jesus’ marital status has little to do with his power to transform our lives, what we think about the possibility of Jesus being married says a lot about our theology. Would Jesus’ spiritual unity with God be threatened if he were married and had intimate relationships with his spouse? In his Advent oratorio, For the Time Being, W.H. Auden proclaims, “Love him [Christ/God] in the world of the flesh.” Surely, divine omnipresence and omniactivity embraces sexuality as well as celibacy as reflections of divine love.
The final words from Ruth describe conception and childbirth and the gift of sexuality that led to the birth of David the greatest of kings and, in Christian eyes, the birth of Joseph and his son Jesus. God’s realm embraces flesh and blood, and sexuality and parenting. Sexuality leads to incarnation – the incarnation of Jesus and our own children and grandchildren as God’s beloved ones.
Psalm 42 describes the energy of spiritual intentionality. The author is thirsting for God. He or she once experienced God as a living reality, but now God seems absent, perhaps due to health condition or external threats. The reality of God, even in God’s absence, is front and center in the Psalmist’s experience. Everything constellates on experiencing God fully once more. Faith vacillates between presence and absence; moments of encounter with the Living God transform our lives, enable us to hope for the future, and also live in the meantime.
Hebrews once again presents a theological challenge to seekers and emerging and progressive Christians. We struggle with sacrificial atonement and the need for death to bring life to humankind. I recall my own feelings of repugnance at seeing a billboard that joined manger and cross, and announced, “Born to die.” Such understandings of Jesus’ life neglect the one thing needful – Jesus’ life! By that, I mean the power of Jesus’ ministry, his welcome of outcasts and embrace of marginalized persons, his healing touch, and his liberating words.
The Gospel reading explores the energy of possession and money. Jesus does not oppose wealth in this passage, but once again connects certain types of wealth-creation with injustice toward the vulnerable. Generosity among the wealthy is a good and socially beneficial activity: I have personally benefitted from the generosity of a number of foundations. In the spirit of Buddhism, Jesus is counseling right and honest livelihood. His words beg the questions: Is our wealth-making supportive of the whole earth and our local communities? Does our wealth-making benefit the poor and vulnerable? Do we see wealth as an “end” or a “means” to creating good lives for ourselves and others? If our occupations reflect sustainability and justice-making, then we can live by Wesley’s maxim: make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
The wealthy are always among us, and these days it seems as if the gap between the wealthy and the general populace is expanding. Such a gap is socially unhealthy, according to the Hebraic prophets, because it immunizes the wealthy from the struggles faced by those who live from paycheck to paycheck, through no fault of their own, and those who must depend on the generosity of strangers for their very survival. Jesus lauds an impoverished woman, because she gives everything she has. For reasons we will never know, she places the totality of her meager savings at God’s disposal. The energy of her generosity radiates through the ages and inspires us toward a creative generosity in our time.
Many persons, inspired by the prosperity gospel, new age thinking, and individualistic philosophies, identify financial success solely with God’s blessing on our faithfulness or positive attitudes. They become irritated when political and religious leaders suggest that their wealth is the result of a variety of factors, going beyond their own initiative. This is a far cry from Jesus’ approach to money and possessions. Jesus does not oppose commerce, innovation, and creativity; but he asserts that all gifts come from the divine source of blessing and should be ultimately placed at the disposal of God’s realm of Shalom. There is no room for hoarding or irresponsible profit-making in Jesus’ teaching. The energy of life and the energy of money are intended, like the energy of sexuality and love, to go beyond ourselves and create new possibilities for personal and planetary well-being.
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 is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.