Pr15A Seeing an alternate universe

nick-fewings-1zJkgcOS0is-unsplashGenesis 45:1-15
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

In the classic “text of terror” (a biblical genre identified by theologian Phyllis Trible) a woman is the victim of patriarchal oppression and/or violence and there is no one to protect or seek justice for her.  In variations, the victim may be male or the perpetrator may not be human. Sometimes the perpetrator is God as in this week’s first and second readings, and almost in the third.

In the first reading, Joseph says that God, not his brothers, was responsible for selling him into slavery.  It was all part of God’s plan for saving “a remnant” (a few) from a future famine. God had a plan and Joseph knew what it was.

In the second reading, the apostle Paul says God has yet another plan: staggering salvation as between  Jews and gentiles.  First the Jews, then the gentiles, then the Jews who didn’t get it the first time.  Do the gentiles get a second chance? Maybe not.  But God has a plan and Paul knows what it is.

God’s plans sound terrifying: innocent people are destined for misfortune and suffering so that God can be good to someone else.

We ought to go verrrrrry slowly when we hear someone talk confidently about God’s plan. They are probably talking about their own hopes and dreams, which may or may not be worthy and may or may not be of God.  Jesus nearly ignores the only person in Matthew’s gospel who is said to have “great faith” because Jesus thought the plan was for  “the house of Israel” to come first. Thankfully, Jesus was going slowly enough to see the woman’s faith and change his mind.

In the first reading, Joseph ultimately saved many people from starving during a seven year famine. But the notion that God planned to use slavery — evil, violence and injustice — to accomplish a good result is problematic. It leaves no room for an alternate universe of possibilities that might also have accomplished that good result without the evil, violence and injustice.

Faith, like the Canaanite woman’s faith, is what brings an alternate universe of possibilities into view.

Sharon Salzberg is a teacher of Buddhist meditation and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.  In her 2003 book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, she writes that faith is that quality which impels us to look for possibilities other than suffering or brokenness. It enables us to seek what is constant and whole and become connected to it.

The faith of the Canaanite woman saw in Jesus an alternate universe in which a foreigner could offer healing to her daughter.  Having “great faith” she kept calling him until he could see it too.

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Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Pr14A Leadership and faith

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Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

When great leaders die, we worry about who will lead us next.  Whose faith will unite, inspire and encourage us when we are too uncertain or afraid to move?

Matthew’s gospel was written during a death-dealing, destructive military occupation.  It was intended to be a handbook for church leaders.  Peter had recently died, so leadership was a big issue. Who should lead the church next? Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on water is an attempt to answer that question. Basically, the answer was “don’t wait for another Peter.”

Jesus walking on the water is a resurrection story thinly disguised as a miracle story. (Philip Jenkins explains this concisely here.) The story appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, but only Matthew adds the part about Peter jumping out of the boat. The addition makes the story a cautionary tale about the danger of leadership delegated to one person.

What did Peter do wrong?

First, he put God to the test: “Lord, if it is you…” give me the power to walk on water. Peter gave in to one of the wilderness temptations. (Mtt. 4:7)

Second, although Peter easily takes risks, Jesus says he lacks “faith.”

Third, by jumping out of the boat Peter left the others behind. For Matthew, discernment and decision making is a group process. The Risen One is present when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name. (Mtt. 18)  It was wrong to leave the others behind.

Matthew’s advice to the church is that they should not be seeking another Peter. Peter was not a bad disciple, but autocracy is not the recommended model of governance for Christian community. Leadership should be shared.

We can always hope for great leaders, but if and when they emerge we cannot cast all responsibility for leadership upon their shoulders.  That burden will warp their judgment and their humanity.

In the meantime, we can share leadership.  To do our part, each of us needs informed opinions, the willingness to share them and to listen to others’. We need the willingness to inspire and encourage one another, to do our share of the work and the confidence that our contribution can make a difference.

That last one is sometimes the most difficult. Maybe the faith Peter lacked was not in Jesus, but in himself.

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Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash