The Adventurous Lectionary -The Third Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2015
I Corinthians 1:18-25
Today’s readings join theology, ethics, spirituality, economics, and public policy. They suggest that religion and politics really do mix, but in ways that baffle liberals and conservatives alike. While the Hebraic wanderers lived under the rule of a proto-theocracy, their understanding of the relationship of God and values is not a historical aberration. Even secular and pluralistic societies promote certain economic and relational behaviors as representative of their highest values.
The Ten Commandments begin with relationship and not legalism. God’s graceful liberation and deliverance undergirds each of the commandments. God reminds the people that grace requires a response. Saved by divine power and love, the people need to live up to the values of holiness. These are not “I said so” values, but values and behaviors that promote personal and relational well-being. Theologian Paul Tillich spoke of three types of law: autonomy, or self-determination, based primarily on my personal values; heteronomy, the enforcement of laws and behaviors, often contrary to my personal desires, by an external source; and theonomy, laws and behaviors emerging from the divine-human relationship and promoting my own authentic well-being, even if I currently unaware of this. The Hebraic people, at their best, saw the Ten Commandments as a form of theonomy, insuring personal and social well-being.
Grounded in divine grace and deliverance, the commandments begin with our relationship with God. In a God-breathed, God-designed universe, alignment with God’s vision is the foundation of social and personal morality and well-being. Following God in all things orders our priorities and values, and places them in the widest possible ethical and spiritual context. If we love the creator rightly, we will appropriately love creation. We will find ourselves fellow companions with one another, not self-ruled individualists, accountable only to ourselves, and heedless of our impact on the environment.
Sabbath-keeping is one commandment that is routinely violated without any remorse. Here I am not talking about blue laws and external prohibitions, but the willingness to place work and profit-making above everything else. In our 24/7 culture, we need to find ways to disengage from action; to slow down, pray, and meditate. Health of body, mind, and spirit – indeed, communal health – depends on rest as well as action.
Murder, theft, greed, adultery, and lying are condemned but also accepted in our current social context. I am amazed how many lies I hear invoked by political pundits, politicians, and posts on Facebook. These are not accidental lies but brazen fabrications, whether they relate to President Obama, Islam, or people with we disagree in terms of ethics, lifestyle, or politics. Greed is celebrated through television commercials as well as the identification of increased spending with national well-being. We are willing to destroy the environment to create a few jobs. We speak about healthy relationships, sell commodities based on sex appeal and find ourselves trying to keep up with the Kardashians. Later, the Apostle Paul was to describe such behaviors as the “ways of the flesh” because they alienate us from each other, objectify others, and substitute the love of things for the love of God and our fellow creatures.
Paul asserts that following God’s way appears to be foolishness to the world. Imagine winning by sacrifice and hospitality. Imagine suffering as a source of healing. Imagine God as the least of these – like the Tao supporting all things – without alienation or condemnation. The cross, representing ultimate defeat to the world, is the pathway of healing and wholeness. Only a suffering God can save, as Bonhoeffer proclaims. God is the fellow sufferer who understands, as Whitehead asserts. Suffering love – the love of parent and grandparent for child, of lovers for one another – can save and transform. This is foolishness in a world that glorifies power and individualism. In this foolishness, love wins and the world is saved.
The Gospel reading portrays a passionate Jesus, willing to practice civil-disobedience to purify the Temple. The Temple is to be a place of worship, not profiteering. God is concerned about our economics. While profit has its place in securing well-being for ourselves and our families, profit-making is governed by the ethics of time, place, and person. Economics are to be conducted as if “people really mattered.” Joining love of God and creation, our economics are intended to heal the earth and the human family.
“So what?” we might ask. Our cultural values are so far from this vision that generosity, fairness, and insuring a social safety net seem impractical and almost un-American. Our own well-being is personal and individual. How we spend our money is private, and without ethical implications, whether in our personal lives or our influence on the political system. Gun rights and property rights trump personal safety, and profit eclipses the well-being of employees. Care for the vulnerable, however, is not optional in today’s scriptures. Caring for the least of these is God’s demand, whether in economic or religious life. Religious institutions should be the primary proponents of the common good. Moreover, our incomes are not our own; they fall under a broader and deeper ethic of holiness and social wellness.
We cannot promote theocracy. We can promote behaviors that look beyond self-interest to bring healing to the world in all its diversity.