To Heal the Sin-Sick Soul


Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 or Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“…most of us would find Christians truly cast in the New Testament mold fairly obnoxious: civically reprobate, ideologically unsound, economically destructive, politically irresponsible, socially discreditable, and really just a bit indecent.”
-David Bentley Hart

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

In a 2016 essay in Commonweal, Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, described how translating the New Testament drove him to the distressing conclusion that Jesus and his early followers meant – and lived – what they said about the dangers of wealth. As one would expect, defenders of wealth as an intrinsic good, unhappy with Hart’s essay, wrote strongly-worded rebuttals Hart, well known for his erudition and verbal cantankerousness, leaves few readers neutral about his message or person. His work typically includes something to make everyone unhappy, but while other theologians may reject his arguments and interpretations, they rarely dismiss him as uninteresting. He’s not the sort whose work is readily neutered into comforting pablum.

His point in the essay is that’s precisely what Christianity has done to texts like this Sunday gospel reading, turning the demanding communal practice of material poverty into a spiritualized individual attitude, a change of thought rather than a way of life. Hart, like me, knows this sin from the inside. Indeed, most Christians in the global North who write against making this gospel demand safe for the modern consumer stand convicted by their own words. What I call voluntary simplicity looks unimaginably opulent to the roughly one billion fellow humans currently living on less than $2.00 per person per day. Read more

Humility Beyond Sin Management

Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Mark 10:2-16

Today’s Gospel reading is one of those most preachers would rather avoid because even with the best exegesis it is a difficult passage, especially with divorced members sure to be present in any congregation. The question of divorce was no less problematic in Jesus’s day, and it was for just this reason that the Pharisees wanted Jesus’s take: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Read more

Implicating Prayer

Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost
James 5:13-20

The little boy seemed perfectly formed. Five years old. His tanned skin contrasted sharply with the crisp white sheets, and hinted of summer fun around the pool, maybe rides at the local carnival. But something had gone terribly wrong. Unknown to anyone, he had carried a hidden, ticking time bomb in his chest since the day of his birth, and one day as he played with his brothers and sisters, it detonated. When I got there the breathing machine and the drips and tubes were simply marking time. He was gone.

His parents’ preacher had come in the night before, talking big, staking a claim for the boy’s recovery. Faith would raise this child up, he said, and the only thing that could ruin the boy’s healing was lack of faith. The preacher was home in bed when the child was pronounced dead, which was a good thing, because several of us present around that bed would have welcomed a few minutes alone with him. Instead we were left to watch, and wait, and weep. Read more