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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, August 15, 2010:

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:23-29

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm: Psalm 82

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:29--12:2

Gospel: Luke 12:49-56


Yesterday morning, I heard that the United Nations has announced that the flooding in Asia has claimed more lives than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Fires rage in Russia, a country experiencing the hottest summer ever recorded. Crops are failing in various spots across the world. This week’s apocalyptic texts seem appropriate.

In churches that use the Common Lectionary (meaning we're reading the same texts in most of the mainline Protestant churches each Sunday), we only get an apocalyptic whiff every now and then. This week’s Gospel is one of those days. Jesus tells us that he's come to separate family members, to sow division. We certainly don't see Family Values Jesus here. In fact, if we read the Gospels from beginning to end, we see that Family Values Jesus just doesn't exist. Again and again, Jesus tells us that if we follow him on the path he shows us, we're likely to lose a lot that the world tells us we should hold dear--that might include some family members. Jesus also assures us (elsewhere in the Gospels), that if we lose our lives, the lives that society sets out for us, we might actually find those lives.

But all too often, we don't see the signs we need to see, the signs that would let us know what kind of lives we're living, what kind of lives would satisfy our souls. We're good at forecasting the immediate weather when we notice obvious patterns: the direction of the wind and the appearance of clouds. But we're not good at noticing the bigger picture, like noticing God, when God becomes incarnate. We don't pay attention to doing what we know is right and good. Again and again, Jesus tells us that we need to pay attention.

It's interesting that these Gospel lessons come to us in the month of August, a time when the historian's mind might turn to eschatology (the study of end times). We've just passed the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Barbara Tuchman wrote a book, The Guns of August, that showed the events in August of 1914 that led to World War I. Many regional conflicts burst into conflagration in August.

Jesus reminds us that the end is always near. We tend to think of the end in apocalyptic terms: mushroom clouds or poisoned water or melting glaciers. But Jesus comes with a different vision: he promises the end of oppression, the end of inequality. He holds out a dream of a world where everyone has enough and no one has to endure a boot on the neck. For those of us with eyes to see, we can notice the beginnings of God's plan for the world, even while worldly powers think they're in charge.

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