You Go First

Reflection on the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

 

Textual focus: Leviticus 19:9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19; Matthew 5:38-48
Click here for biblical texts

 

Give to everyone who begs from you,
Jesus says that, oh yes he does, and more, too:
Turn the other cheek, give up your cloak,
do not refuse anyone, anyone,
who wants to borrow from you.
How can we keep the economy going
with talk like that? And what about the beggars,
what if they use my money to buy booze?
What good is that?
Respond to being forced to go one mile
by going the second mile—what if I don’t have time
to go that far?
Don’t resist an evildoer, love your enemies,
pray for your persecutors:
How can we live in the world today
with attitudes like that? Does he even know, or care,
about ISIS and our opponents from the other party?

The world is a tough place; you’d think Jesus
would know that, given how Rome treated
the Jews, how Herod killed cousin John.
Sometimes, I think Jesus lives in another world.

Oh, right, he does.
And he keeps trying to get me to join him there,
except for him the there is here, now. 

This didn’t start with him either, he knows
Leviticus: leave the gleanings of fields
and vineyards for those in need
(remember Ruth?), no defrauding your neighbor,
no keeping wages of others, no false swearing,
no slander, no unjust judgments;
you shall love your neighbor as yourself
(yes, Jesus was repeating Leviticus).

So why is it so hard for me, maybe you, too,
to go where Jesus goes, to be one
of the people of the Way—some of his
early followers were called that—to live
with open heart and open hand,
to speak in love even to those
whose ugly words and deeds
cause me to shudder and rise in anger
to say No? Can I do both? Can I say no
and also say I love you? Why not?
Is not all possible with God?

Paul told Corinthians the wisdom
of this world is foolishness with God;
so, he said, become fools
that you may become wise.

So let us dance in the street
when there is no music
except the tapping of our souls,
let us toss coins in the air
and take beggars to lunch,
let us hug the racists and the thugs,
let us find men and women in need of coats
and strip ours off our backs,
and do all generous, foolish things that
will cause authorities,
and our families and churches,
to question our sanity,
believing, knowing(?), that is where and when
we will find Jesus.

You go first, I’ll follow.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem: As faithful people we really do love Jesus, want to serve God, but it can be very difficult when what we encounter in Scripture demands a whole different way of living, not just a way of life, but actual behavior changes in everyday life. The texts in this week’s lectionary really challenge me, and I imagine others, and frankly I am uncertain how to proceed. If I do as they instruct, it seems I shall soon be a pauper, probably begging myself. Can that be right? Maybe, if we all did it together…….would that work better? Is that what the writer of Leviticus, Paul, and Jesus are talking about?
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Looking in the Mirror

Response to Proper 21, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 16:19-31)

(Click here for biblical texts)

 

People of means in your church help pay the bills, including
salaries, and especially the pastor’s,
and they are usually pleased and proud to do so,
but conflict may arise when Jesus tells
the parable of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man.
What church, indeed what church leader, lay or ordained,
would know the name of a beggar
but not that of a rich man who either
already gave funds to build the new addition
(and where his name is on the plaque)
or who is being asked to do so?
But that is what Jesus does—leading us
again to wonder what kind of leader
he would be for our church? Could we afford
a pastor who lives this way, turning the tables
not only over in the sanctuary but also
making it difficult, perhaps impossible, to buy new ones?

lazarus-and-the-rich-man-wikigallery-org
wikigallery.org

Here again Jesus provides comfort to the slave,
the sharecropper, the unemployed, victims of racism,
ableism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other ways we divide people
into those with whom we connect,
those we see, those whose eyes we meet,
and those we walk by, step over, avert our eyes
as if to say we deny they exist,
echoing today in the claim “All Lives Matter”
in response to anguished cries of many
that some lives more than others are blown away by bullets,
thrown away by poverty, discrimination and privilege.

Privilege. That is what the rich man had,
the option not to see Lazarus, not even to see
the dogs who licked Lazarus, infecting his wounds.
So we see what to do, emulate Father Abraham,
bring those we “diss” and dismiss into our heart,
make it the bosom of Abraham—and that is not
only the work of the rich but also many, including me,
whose privilege is not only wealth greater than most
of the world but also whose skin color,
gender, ability, age, weight gives us
a leg up in the marathon of life.

Oh that Jesus, doing it again, holding the mirror
up to see ourselves so we can decide
which actor in the parable is us—
and perhaps choose how to respond . . .
today.

If you are reading this, it’s not too late.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This parable continues Luke’s focus on money and spiritual health, but it seems to me to be one that is often overlooked, because I suspect it makes us uncomfortable. There is no mercy for the rich man and somehow many of us (the ones who set the social norms or whose lives live in concert with them), although most certainly not all of us, instinctively know who we are in the story. And we may inhabit several different identities and that can change which character we are at any given moment. Still, it seems, again, that Jesus wants us to choose.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Damn It, Jesus

A Reflection in Response to Proper 17, 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(focusing on Luke 14 and Proverbs 25)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus is a gracious guest, not grabbing
the best seat, not worrying for himself
about status—at the same time using status
to suggest that blessing
is more important than being blessed,
even as we bless others we are blessed.
He is such a good rabbi, reminding the gathering
as in Proverbs 25, “it is better to be told,
‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in
the presence of a noble,” but Jesus also, again,
makes a challenging claim on us—
“when you give a banquet, invite the poor,
the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

beggar with hands out
vincentmars.com

There is a man at the Metro stop where I live
who sits often, saying “pennies, pennies, pennies . . . .”
in a small, rasping, needy voice.
Most of us pass him by, part of the everyday landscape
not unlike the Native woman who carries a crude sign,
“Single mother, 4 child,” holding the hand of one of them,
a girl about seven or eight, seeking donations on the train.
How do we invite them to share in the banquet?
So far all I know is to give them some
change, a dollar bill or a protein bar.
Most people seem to look away.
Is it enough for me to give that small support
or do I at least need to see doing this as a joyous act,
not a duty but a gift given to me to reach out
and invite them to the banquet?

I mean whose banquet is it anyway?
And what kind of banquet is it,
where I, or we, invite the poor—I am afraid
to ask Penny Man home, would he leave
when the meal ends and how would I feel sending him
back on the street?
How could I forget him when I did that?
Damn it, Jesus, why do you leave us with these words
that challenged those long ago and can upend us
when—if –we allow ourselves to let them
get under our skin—when we usually resist
by hoping someone else will feed the poor
and the rest you mentioned, and more we know
need help? Can’t the government do something
or what about other churches or charities?

But you speak about more than helping; you want us
to become community with those we rarely see and never
consider part of our group, our social set, our tribe, our people.
That would mean digging deeper into understanding our neighbor;
who is my, who is our, neighbor really?
I know the immigrant is my neighbor,
and others who some despise, but what about Penny Man
and that desperate mother and the Black man and others
behind bars for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,
as well as those who really broke the law?
When was the last time I visited someone in prison?
At least they have a roof, three squares a day—
but not much dignity on the inside
and most often little help when they are allowed to rejoin
what we call society.

Thanks to you, Lord—yes, I mean that,
and my voice also carries an edge—I cannot get Penny Man
or the mother with her four kids,
out of my head, maybe even my heart.  
I’m on my knees, let this cup pass me by I say,
knowing how offensive that sounds compared
to your request in the garden long ago . . . so I keep
praying, trusting you will guide me to become both
my neighbor’s keeper and just a better neighbor.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Sitting in a comfortable church and no matter the power of the excellent, liberating preaching, it is not always easy to hear and feel the discomfort Jesus intends with his modest words, especially when they can seem to be about others long ago. I have walked by, and even given money and food to, more homeless people than I can possibly count. I am not quite sure why this man at my Metro stop, and this mother with the haunting eyes and her daughter whose face registers both fear and gratitude when I hand over a dollar, have gotten under my skin, but I know some of it, much of it, has to do with Jesus, and not just this reading from Luke. I am feeling ‘buked for my years of what appear to be hard heart (and thus a little, maybe more than that, ticked off) and simultaneously blessed for being given a gift I do not yet understand.  Is this what faithfulness looks like, feels like?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.