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

It Is Always Them and Us

Reflection for Proper 6, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

(click here for biblical texts)

Sin is the great human equalizer
even though some always point with alarm
at sins of others and often manage
to sin really big as they hide behind
their judgments. A great gift King David shares
with us is the largeness of his sinning—
no petty morality thief he—this impregnator
of Bathsheba, murderer of Uriah did it big
not for the first or last time in his storied life.
Nor is it only once that loyal counselor Nathan
conveys God’s displeasure—can you just see
him, smacking his head perhaps, thinking how could he
do this, when will he learn there are limits
even for kings? Even great kings basking
in God’s favor.

Luke tells of less violent but still a disrespectful
act of Pharasaic inhospitality toward the woman
who dared show love and care for Jesus invited
to his home for dinner; this woman, labeled a sinner,
is judged unworthy by the host to grace his home—
can you not see him looking down his privileged
nose at her, even as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears
and alabaster ointment—and Jesus assumes Nathan’s
role to show the eminent one that etiquette
counts less than ethics, that generosity begins
in simple acts of kindness—greeting all your guests
invited or not with dignity, an embrace or kiss,
water for hands dirtied in the ordinariness of life
and for dried throats, perhaps even ointment
for weary brow and aching feet, none of this shared
by he who sits as judge.

This leader is to be sure well-meaning,
conscious of what he and others see as his role
and duty to keep rules of social decorum in place—
how will the others know where to sit without a place card,
and know if there is no such marker they are not welcome.
Order matters for him, as for many, maybe even for you and me;
It is so easy to sit on our own throne of judgment
but when did you last invite a homeless person to dine
with you, or even stoop to share a dollar with the beggar
lying rudely in his rags on the street?

As for David, those despicable acts are in a class
by themselves, so surely we can judge righteously,
not being rapists or murderers ourselves—but,
and think carefully before answering, when was
the last time you marched into your bosses’ office
and told her the company’s investments in the
West Bank, resulting in Palestinians being moved
off their land against their will, were immoral, or even spoke up
to object to the telling of a racist or homophobic
or transphobic joke, or went to an abortion clinic
to stand with women having to brave the pickets
standing in judgment of their need for help,
or if you are a person who considers himself white,
when was the last time you tried to organize your neighbors,
all of whom look like you, into protesting policies
and practices that make black men as many as ten times
more likely to be arrested than you and your friends?

Sin is the great human equalizer
because it comes in so many forms
and maybe the best way to see it is to look
in the mirror, at least to start there as a reminder
that redemption begins at home, that forgiveness
is a gift that keeps on giving, mercy is rarely overdone,
kindness is always appropriate, greed is always wrong
whether it is a brutal taking or a sly shoplift, killing
is at the apex of the index, whether it is one-on-one
or we sit idly as our army kills whether we know
the cause or not, just because someone has told us
it’s them or us.

The truth, God’s truth, is that it is never
them or us, it is always them and us, just us.
The sooner we learn that, the sooner sin
will die a holy and natural death.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . It can be comforting to read scriptural accounts of the failings of others, and to feel sorry for them, or judge them, or both, but in truth what if someone were writing down our acts, or our lack of acting in response to the wrongs we see? How would our story come out? Humility is a good place to live our faith. But boldness, too—when did you last bathe a stranger with your tears?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form