Proper 23

October 15, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Reading 2: 
Psalm 22:1-15
Reading 3: 
Hebrews 4:12-16
Reading 4: 
Mark 10:17-31
Alt Reading 2: 
Psalm 90:12-17
Alt Reading 1: 
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
By Ignacio Castuera

Those connecting with this resource for the first time ever, or for the first time this month need to go back to the October 1 notes in order to get the basic theological presuppositions that inform this October series. It may also be a good idea to read last Sunday’s notes because in at least one case, I am building on suggestions I made on that date’s comments.

The Wizard of Uz II.
The Job series takes an interesting twist in act 2. Job, the patient, turns into Job the pursuer and interrogator of God. Whatever the reasons for his suffering may be Job is pretty sure that the explanations given to him by his wife and friends are wrong. He has moved from the position of accepting good and bad coming from God to now wanting to know why is he suffering this way. He still thinks that God has something to do with his suffering but he really wants to present his case, as if he were a lawyer defending himself, before his God. He has no idea that in this story he is merely a pawn in a cosmic chess game between his God and the Satan. Nevertheless he still thinks that the nature of the cosmos is such that all things have a reasonable explanation, the third Act will get him closer to see that in fact “bad things do happen to good people” and that there is a sense of irrationality, or at least unpredictability in the universe.

Psalm 22 is seen by many scholars as the scripture that provided a framework into which the early followers of Jesus could place the events of the crucifixion, by the Romans, of the one who had dared to oppose the Empire in such a way that his deeds were judged to be seditious and dangerous. Death by crucifixion was a very cruel form of execution which the Romans used to perfection. The dehydration, overextension of muscles, stretch on ligaments, etc., are only a fraction of the kind of pain inducing torment that ended only one way and, unfortunately, not soon enough. Part of the cruelty of this form of execution was in the slow pace of the process of dying. The psalm obviously is not about crucifixion, and certainly not a “prediction” of the crucifixion of Jesus, it is about the persecution, suffering and eventual death of those who are seen as expendable by the powerful. The opening lines of the Psalm were placed on the lips of Jesus by the tradition probably during the development of the oral tradition surrounding the cruel death of Jesus. It is called the “cry of dereliction” and two transliterations from the Aramaic appear in the Gospel narratives. This is a powerful psalm which can be rendered impotent by those who see it simply as a “prophecy” about the death of Jesus instead of the prayer of those who constantly suffered and suffer persecution and death because of their opposition to the powerful

The Common Lectionary includes a reading from Amos 5:6-7, 10-15. This is a very strong indictment against those who “trample the poor.” This text must be brought to real life by making some connections to the situation in which we find ourselves today. One of the ways to make this text really alive is to translate 5:10 with clear references to the way in which those who speak the truth right now are labeled as unpatriotic. 5:11 should be combined with specific statistics about the global apartheid system under which so many of the poor live in the world. The trampling of the poor was anticipated and is being perpetuated by those who refuse to share the magnificence of creation and the liberality of our God. In our day and age it is very hard to realize that we live in the heart of a heartless Empire and that as Christians who believe both Amos and Jesus were right in their condemnations of richness we participate, even if it is unwillingly in a system that has accepted poverty as inevitable and has made it more intractable.

David Griffin states the following: In today’s world…some fifteen million people, most of them children, die every year because of insufficient food and drinking water. Since the end of World War II, the global economy has been presided over by the United States. And during this period, the gap between the have and have-nots of the world has increased greatly. This gap is, in fact, now widely called “global apartheid.” With critics pointing out that it is even worse, by every measure, than was apartheid in South Africa. This increasing gap is, furthermore, due primarily to policies deliberately adopted by our government.

In this regard, we cannot remind ourselves too often of the notorious State Department memo written in 1947 by George Kennan who was in charge of long range planning. “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population, “ Kennan pointed out. He then said, “Our real tsk in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.”,,,It is to a large extent because of this general policy that we now have ever increasing global apartheid, with 15 milliion people dying every year -150 million dying every decade- because of poverty, while the number of billionaires increases. (American Empire and the Commonwealth of God, p.156)

In light of this quotation and the reality it reflects the Epistle and Gospel texts “preach themselves.” Hebrews 4:15 speaks of Jesus as the High Priest who does sympathize with our weakness, both the weakness of those who suffer directly and the weakness of those of us who cannot act in ways that defy the system that continues to create a global apartheid. Then on the basis of our confidence in such a high priest we can approach the throne of Grace with boldness to both, receive mercy for our failings up to now and find grace in time of need, and goodness, it is a time of need!

The Gospel lesson has been wrongly called “Jesus and the Young Rich Ruler” by the church over several centuries. This happens often due to conflations of stories by those who knew how to read or by those who could not read and remembered the stories inaccurately.

Mark merely mentions a man who comes to Jesus looking for a formula to enter into eternal life. Jesus mentions some of the commandments which the man claims to have kept since his youth. (this reference to keeping the commandments since “my youth” might have contributed to the mislabeling of the story.) Jesus then gives him not a simple formula but a simple, but impossible action to pursue go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…then come and follow me.

The inability of the man to answer the summon makes Jesus turn and address his disciples, his poor disciples, and it is to them that Jesus says: How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the basileia Theou (I follow John Cobb in using the Greek so that we can make sure that all the mistaken notions associated with the terms“kingdom of God” don’t vitiate the meaning Jesus meant to convey of a different kind of God and a different kind of reigning over a community. Cobb’s suggestion of the commonwealth of God, is so far, the best we can come up with in English.)

While the man with many possessions simply went away, the disciples who mistakenly want to participate in a “kngdom” with Jesus object first with body language that is reflected only in the more insistent restatement of Jesus Children, how hard it is to enter the basileia theou! This is followed by the often misread and mis-preached statement about camels and eyes of needles. The statement which is presented to emphasize the impossibility of entering into the basileia theou burdened with wealth, or the desire to acquire wealth, is often used to explain that Jesus didn’t really mean that it was impossible to participate in the commonwealth of God if one is rich or desires to be rich, it is merely, very difficult. Wrong! Jesus was to his time what Amos was for his own time. He knew that the man who had wealth could only have obtained it in the occupied Palestine of the first century by doing something along the lines of what Amos stated, you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain,and, worse yet, this money could be made only by those who acquiesced to the presence of the Romans in their land and collaborated with them in the oppression of the poor. Mark believed that the disciples were following Jesus with the mistaken idea that he would replace the Roman rule and establish a ‘kingdom” in which they, the disciples, would have the high places of honor and the riches they were now denied. Jesus, according to Mark, has been trying over and over again to make very clear to them that the basileia theou is radically different from the Empire they are opposing and resisting. But the apostles beginning with Peter’s wrongly based affirmation of Jesus sonship back in chapter 8:27-38 through the argument on the road to Capernaum in 9:30-37 continue to believe that even though they are resisting Rome, they will mere replace Rome with a “kingdom” where they can be top dogs. Jesus was proclaiming a new situation where nobody rules over anybody and this was too different and too new for the disciples to really understand. It continues to be difficult to understand and even more difficult to pursue.

Ignacio Castuera, a United Methodist minister, is currently serving Trinity United Methodist Church in Pomona, California, and also serves as the national chaplain for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Rev.Castuera has served churches in Mexico, Hawaii, and California. In 1980, he became the first Latino District Superintendent of the Los Angeles District of the California Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.