23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Proper 18), Year B

Does justice work in two directions? What we mean is, if we are supposed to serve the poor, comfort the widow, shelter the stranger, then do they in turn have an obligation to ask for the help that they need? Or, do the widow and the orphan and the resident alien have something to give in the process as well? Our readings today have us thinking whether justice is just something that rolls down or is it somehow something different...a meeting of the minds where we all have power and responsibility in the equation?

Proverbs is a book of wisdom teachings - it is full of things that are simply common sense. The selection this week is a teaching about justice. It's sort of an interesting order of things presented here. First, there is the advice that a good name or favor is better than riches. Then there is a reminder that God is creator of both the rich and the poor. Then there is advice that those who are unjust will fail and those who are generous will be blessed. All of this is because the Lord is watching out for the poor specifically.

The psalmist writes an appeal that the Lord stand by those who are righteous. They are like Mount Zion, immovable and unchanging. Given the eventual fall of the empire, did Israel remain righteous? What was the Lord's role?

The letter from James continues the theme established so far...the poor, the meek, the forgotten need our attention. There is no redemption in favoring the rich. There is a great line to open this chapter: "My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?" It appears that passive aggressive sarcasm was present even 1900 years ago! This is a passage that often good Puritans use to "work their way in to heaven".....it is in verse 17: "So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." This writer is pushing toward making sure justice is done.

The story in Mark is an unusual one. The gospel of Mark is full of people arguing directly with Jesus or specifically going and doing something he has told them not to do. But the Syrophonecian woman is the one person in this gospel text who argues with Jesus and essentially wins her argument. There is some political code language going on here. First, this is a woman approaching a man. When Jesus denies her request, she plays point and counterpoint. But beyond that, she is at a socio-political disadvantage. She's a gentile...not from Israel, not Jewish...why has she approached Jesus? He must be wondering the same thing. Her witty response stops him and moves him and somewhere, he does "the right thing," healing her daughter. A lot of writers focus on what Jesus must have learned in this passage. But we wonder, how hard was it for this woman to approach him and then to stand her ground? Did she believe that Jesus was changed by the exchange?

What are the places where you make sure justice is done....you know, the smaller-scale places?
Are there ways you have found that help you be more aware of these types of needs?
Have you ever been turning away from helping someone, only to be challenged by your decision to do that?
What have you learned or gained from the widow, the orphan, the resident alien?
What have you learned as the widow, the orphan, the resident alien?

We pray that we are challenged daily
...moment by moment
to see all people
as beloved community
to see all people
as worthy of our attention
our advocacy
our thoughts
our prayers.
Help us engage with one another
outside of our comfort zone,
and stretch us
for your work
in this world.

© matt & laura norvell 2009 www.settingourstones.org
we want to share this you and hope you'll share with the world; we simply ask that you let people know where you found these words. May Grace & Peace be with you.

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