8.13.2008

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 45: 1 – 15
Psalm 133
Romans 11: 1 – 2a, 29 – 32
Matthew 15: (10 – 20), 21 - 28


Remember when most of the business world was in search of the next great "paradigm shift?" We were all busy "thinking outside of the box." In all fairness, the way we transact and communicate has radically changed, in part because of all the "shifting" that took place before the dawn of the "global economy." Change takes time, and sometimes it is gradual and unperceivable. And then WHAM, you know something is different.

The lectionary readings for this week point toward one of those gradual shifts that eventually hit – WHAM – a new way of thinking about those whom God loved.

Let's start with the "old paradigm."

Family relationships hardly ever disappear. They might grow weaker, they might be strained at times, we might try to forget them, but it seems the connections to the people sitting in our family tree are unbreakable. And it is tough to know exactly why this is true. Is it an innate part of who we are as humans? Is it socialized in to us – spoken by our crib-side, fireside and bedside that blood is thicker than water? Because, let's face it, there are numerous stories of the ugly things our relatives have done to us. Many people attest that they have not been treated so poorly as by the people in their family. And also, there is no question, the people who teach us to walk and talk and laugh and care are people who make deep marks on each of us. We are connected to our families.

Throughout this season, we've read about Israel's family tree. We've seen God give Abraham a son, we've seen Isaac spared, we've seen Jacob wrestle and settle matters with Esau, and this week, we saw Joseph reconcile with his brothers, the same brothers who sold him into slavery. In the Hebrew tradition, family connection was what defined a person – and specifically defined a person's relationship with Yahweh – the One God.

This week, Joseph reconciles with his brothers and ushers them into a time of safety and comfort. We know the struggles they have come from...and if we continue forward through Genesis and into Exodus, we know ultimately that these tribes are enslaved and eventually led by Moses, through time, trial and tribulation, to an eventual "freedom." But we know that freedom isn't endless. The society of Israel continues to morph, and from the judges to the Kings, wealth and power accumulates, more pronounced class divisions emerge, and a society that had been pulled together in covenant crumbles under the weight of rigid rules, taxes, patronage and state religion. Through it all, something remains constant – people are born into their relationship with God – an inheritance determined strictly by bloodlines.

The Psalmist is celebrating this connection shared by kin. Family members are "ordained" with God's blessing. Priests are "born," not called into service.

Ready for WHAM?

The really interesting part of the readings this week comes from Matthew and the words of Jesus. Early in the passage he has a bit of a scolding response for the disciple who asked about the Pharisee who was offended by Jesus' teachings. Jesus says "every plant which my Father has not planted will be uprooted" which implies that he (Jesus) does not have a connection to this Pharisee. At first glance, this is odd because the Pharisees were VERY "Jewish" by bloodline and adherence to the Law. The oddness of this is further enhanced by the interaction with this Canaanite woman later in the passage. She asks for help with her sick daughter, and he tells her he is has been sent to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But then after a quick exchange, he relents and affirms her faith, healing her daughter. Was this a sudden change of heart for Jesus? What was it about her plea – reminding him that even the dogs eat the crumbs from the master's table – that made him extend his work beyond the scope of Israel?

In the passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, we see Paul again walking line between what is involved to be a Jew who follows Jesus and what is involved to be a Gentile who follows Jesus. In these verses he makes an effort to show that the message of Jesus is open to all and is available to all and that all have responsibilities. He acknowledges that there is a "family" connection between the Jews and Jesus and he looks toward how that connection is no longer exclusive. (Note how chopped up this selection is. It is worth reading 11: 1 – 36 completely. Paul is setting up a relationship between Jews and Gentiles in which God's grace and mercy is available to all, essentially by nature of how they will come to interact with one another.)

We might associate the word "reformation" with Martin Luther. But really, Jesus is initiating a reformation in this week's reading. He's expanding the kingdom, extending grace and mercy in a single act. WHAM. Nothing is quite as it was.

· What permits your relationship with God?
· How do you relate to others outside of our family? Our community? Our faith? Our race?
· What "paradigm shifts" have you experienced in your faith?
· What have been the WHAM moments in your life?

Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound

“Shed a Little Light”, James Taylor

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