Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Proper 18, Year B
September 5, 2021
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
The Book of Proverbs is part of the Wisdom Literature of the Bible (other such Wisdom books include the Psalms, the Song of Solomon, Job and Ecclesiastes). These sayings appointed for this week point to a fundamental Christian belief about the nature of God – He cares passionately about and even prefers the poor. The sayings start with reminders that God is the same maker of both the poor and the rich. There is a further reminder that a good name and good favor is better than riches and that such favor and name can be obtained by doing acts of justice and by sharing from our resources with the poor, God’s favorite people.
What action can you execute today which might earn goodness for your name? Do you have any resources of time or treasure which you might generously share with those less fortunate?
Israel is strong and cannot be toppled from her place of strength. This Psalm likens the strength of Israel to the strength and beauty of Mount Zion and the protected, exalted beauty of the city of Jerusalem. Israel gains this status because she trusts in the Lord. Israel is protected in her favored place in God’s heart, like a city is protected by a ring of mountains from buffeting winds and assaults.
You too have a favored place in God’s heart. God stands around you like protective mountains to shield you from all that might assault you. Do not turn to trust in your own ways. Such turning will not lead to peace. Trust in God. His strength and protection are enough.
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
The author of the Letter of James understands human nature well. He understands that when we encounter people, we often don’t really see them, but we make assumptions based on our first view of them, and then we treat them according to our assumptions. If a person is nicely dressed, we give them preferential treatment because we assume that we might be able to benefit from that person’s riches. If a person is shabbily dressed, if we interact with them at all, it is with the assumption that they can do nothing for us and therefore shouldn’t be favored. James counsels that even making these distinctions between the two is an act of sin. James reminds his brothers and sisters (and us) that through our actions, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter how they present. James reminds us that we are to move beyond our assumptions and truly see people as the beloved children of God that they are. Then we are to treat them kindly. In so doing, we extend mercy, not judgment. And mercy always wins.
When you first encounter a person, what assumptions do you make? When you see the panhandler on the street begging for money, do you truly see that person or do you see your judging assumption of that person? Does that assumption change when you see a nicely dressed business person? When a visitor shows up for worship on Sunday morning and is nicely dressed, do you assume that person is indeed coming for worship? Or is that person coming to receive food from your food pantry? What about when a person shows up who is dirty and wearing shabby clothes? What assumption do you make about why they have come? How do you act towards what you see? What do you extend – mercy or judgment?
A profound human desire is to be seen. We want others to notice us and to really see who we truly are. How rejected we feel when we are not noticed or if we are regarded only through the assumptions others make about us! Jesus, in this section of Mark’s Gospel, does not want to be noticed. He is tired. The work of inaugurating God’s Kingdom has been fatiguing. He simply wants refuge for a while in the house that He enters. But Jesus cannot escape notice. A Syrophoenician woman, wanting to help her demon-possessed daughter, notices that Jesus is in her midst. She begs Him to see her and to help her. At first Jesus does not want to see her or help her and even insults her. But the woman perseveres and demands to be seen. Finally, because of her perseverant faith, Jesus heals her situation. Then Jesus is presented with a deaf man who has speech difficulties. He chooses to help the man but only in private, out of sight. He does not want to be seen. Through Jesus’ intervention, the man is suddenly able to hear and speak. With his new-found ability to speak, he wants to tell the world what Jesus has done for him and to hear the world’s congratulations; but Jesus bids him to be silent. What a play of opposites we encounter in this reading! Jesus does not want to be seen, but He cannot escape notice. Jesus does not want to see the Syrophoenician woman, but she insists on being seen. The formerly deaf/mute man wants to proclaim what Jesus has done for him, but Jesus tells him not to.
Don’t we really want to be seen? Don’t we want others to notice us for who we are? And most of all, don’t we want to be in God’s eye – to be truly seen by God? And yet, how often we play our own game of opposites – wanting to be seen by God, yet hiding from Him. How can you show yourself to God today?
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.