Raging and Rejoicing

Exodus 32:1-14; Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14 (The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The lessons this week have us thinking about anger: God’s and, more obliquely, our own. In the Exodus passage, Moses has to talk down an irrational Yehweh, lest divine rage obliterate the wayward Israelites. In Matthew’s parable of the wedding banquet, an equally unreasonable host-king (God) responds in wildly disproportionate ways to what amounts to a social snubbing and an ill-dressed party guest.

Sandwiched between these troubling texts is Psalm 106, which functions as something of a midrash on both of them. (More on that in a minute). And then there’s the Epistle lesson from Philippians which, when we read it, makes us realize how angry we are—at Wall Street, at the lunacy of electoral politics, at a spouse, a co-worker, ourselves—pick your favorite target(s). Paul’s cheery command to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” seems a little trite and naïve—greeting-card wisdom in this age of high anxiety. Read more

Law, Economy, Freedom and Community

stained glass style picture of the communion cup and breadExodus 20:1-20

There’s a running gag on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report in which the fake-bluster, windbag host, Stephen Colbert, interviews members of Congress in a segment called “Better Know a District.” In a recent installment, Georgia representative Lynn Westmoreland was on the hot seat, and Colbert asked the congressman about his very vocal support for displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings—courthouses and such. “Can you think of any other places where the commandments should have prominence?” asked Colbert, trying, mischievously, to press the point that there might be other sites (churches, anyone? a synagogue, perhaps?) where the Decalogue is more at home.

Westmoreland didn’t get it—he kept talking about courthouses—and so Colbert (a devout Catholic, interestingly) went for the kill: “What are the Ten Commandments, congressman?”

Not surprisingly, Westmoreland was stumped. Read more

God’s Economy

Philippians 2:1-13

There’s nothing like money troubles—ours or someone else’s—to get our attention and hold it. To keep us up at night. To preoccupy our days and overtake all our social interactions. In fact, if you want to break the ice with a new acquaintance or fill that awkward silence with a stranger in a waiting room, on the bus, wherever—just bring up the near-collapse of the world’s financial markets. You’ll get a knowing gaze, a sympathetic nod.

It is telling that the current crisis on Wall Street has captivated our attention like nothing else in recent weeks (Sarah Palin notwithstanding). Millions have suffered and died in Darfur, and continue to do so; Haiti has been all but decimated as a country; the physical, psychological, and spiritual toll of war in Iraq is now near incalculable.

But when the banks start going under, well, that is serious business, indeed. Read more

Workers’ Rights and the Kingdom of Heaven

Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16

“Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:15-16

Some say that human beings are hardwired with a strong sense of what’s fair and what’s not. Maybe. But even if it’s not part of our DNA, it seems pretty clear that the resentment we feel when treated unjustly is learned early and runs deep. Ever been in a room full of toddlers when there aren’t enough toys to go around?

We don’t seem to lose that sense of personal violation and moral indignation as we get older. The toys we fight over as adults may be bigger and more sophisticated—they may even be things like careers and promotions and reputations—but we are often as petty and possessive as any preschooler in our scramble to claim what we believe is rightfully ours. Read more

70 x 7 and 9/11

Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray. (Sirach 28:2)

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

At a time like this—the week we recall the attacks of September 11, 2001—it is instructive to set the script of American civil piety next to the scriptures assigned for the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. This week we’ve been admonished by politicians and others to “remember and never forget” that terrible day seven years ago. This Sunday Jesus will tell us (again) that forgiveness is the required response to those who sin against us. Read more