Todays reading for Pentecost 2 in 2018 Year B 1 Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 Mark 2:23-3:6
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
This week we are thinking about Reconciliation, and at first glance you might not think there is a lot in today’s passages that speak to the inequality, between black and white, and the business of land rights and other major issues between the colonisers and the first people. However I think that as we look at the dispute between Jesus and his critics we can see some things that might help us draw some general principles.
The first thing to notice, I think is that the law is not necessarily the remedy for injustice.
The dispute that Jesus is experiencing here is around the matter of Sabbath. Let me read you the original commandment from Deuteronomy Chapter 5:12-15
12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 14 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15 Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
This is the most complex of all the commandments found in the set we call the Ten Commandments, and it says several very interesting things. The first is that Sabbath is for everyone- not just the rich and powerful, but for slaves, male and female, livestock and indeed the resident aliens as well. This isn’t about priviledge, it’s about justice. Everyone needs a rest God says, regardless of their status. The thing that I want to draw our attention to is that every living thing, include the ox and the ass, is precious in God’s sight. And the fact that the commandment makes specific mention of the ones without rights, the slaves and the aliens, gives us a clear vision of God’s even handedness, God’s value of God’s created beings that says anyone who works needs a rest.
When Jesus is faced with the Pharisees’ criticism he is clearly impatient of any interpretation of this law that doesn’t put first the needs of God’s created and loved beings. To try to use God’s law of justice to inhibit people, and to discredit him is something about which he has no patience. The Jews had multiplied and complexified the law of Sabbath to a ridiculous point and it isn’t clear in the text what part of the commandment they are invoking. It may have been the gleaning of grain or even the path being made through the field that they considered inappropriate. Whatever it was Jesus, referring to David makes it clear that human need takes precedence and tries to show them that the law was meant to protect and care for people, not to be used in order to prosecute them.
Then of course the dispute deepens with the action of healing the man’s withered hand. In fact Jesus does nothing that could be described as work- he doesn’t break the law in any sense, but he does make it clear that he is concerned with compassion and quality of life. The thing to recognise is that in giving this man healing Jesus is changing his ability to work, to provide for his family and to take his place in the society. The law doesn’t speak to any of that, except that the law of a rest day is giving the ability to work with freedom from exhaustion on the other days. And that rest is a matter of justice. So natural justice and compassion are Jesus’ driving principles. The Pharisees are attempting to use the law as a tool to compromise Jesus and they are making it somehow oppositional, work versus rest, instead of work and rest which go together in God’s economy.
So in this narrative section we see Jesus frustrated and angry by the lack of comprehension, and their lack of compassion.
And this is something that is shared so often by people who are campaigning for the rights of others less fortunate than themselves. So often the law is invoked not to heal and support but to nullify the good that might be done.
But that is Jesus, healer, restorer and lover of those in need. What about us? Well, the call of Samuel gives us a window into our own experience. Samuel is called by God to a prophetic ministry. He will in time be a very important figure in Israel but as a small boy he naturally doesn’t know that.
Samuel is called by God, but he has trouble identifying the call for what it is and indeed it requires a mentor for him to be able to understand that it is God who is calling. This is salutary for us as we need to be both listening and hearing what God is asking us to do, and if need be listening to the mentors who help us to rightly identify.
Samuel is going to be asked by God to do some very difficult things in his career. He is asked to do difficult things over his whole life whether he is ready or not to do them. If we had kept reading the next few verses we would have heard the message that God had for Samuel, which was to tell Eli that his house, that is his family, would be destroyed. Not such a good first message, you’d have thought!
Samuel delivers the message at Eli’s behest and luckily Eli has the sense not to shoot the messenger.
Samuel has to confront many difficult situations in his lifetime, but he continues to listen to God and do what he is told by God. Samuel, however is not perfect, which is revealed later in the story. I am not going to talk about that except to notice that the validity of the prophetic work is not dependant on the spokesperson. That is a very good thing. It is, however important to not be hypocritical- a charge that Jesus levels at the Pharisees.
St Paul, talking to the Corinthians in his second letter, is trying to sort out some difference of opinion between himself and them. He makes it very clear that his proclamation, which he expresses in short hand as Jesus Christ as Lord, but of course consists of a lot of quite difficult teaching, is about light shining out of darkness. And indeed you could characterise the actions of Jesus in healing a man on the Sabbath as light shining out of darkness, couldn’t you? The light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ, is what Paul is trying to convey, despite his own limitations. This light encompasses all those matters of justice and righteousness, that need to shine into our world, but more than that the compassion, the uninhibited love that God pours out on us is represented by light. Paul, referring to our capacity to show this to the world says that we have the treasure in clay jars, so that it might be clear that this comes from God not from ourselves. Now, this image of a clay jar is a little lost on us. The container for almost everything was a clay jar- they were ubiquitous, ordinary, and plentiful. They had one other characteristic, which was that they were fragile- this seems a very good summary of the ordinary human beings who are entrusted with this message of God’s justice and love, the glory of God. And the reason God uses the ordinary? So that God’s glory might be revealed.
The law can be helpful, and the law sometimes breaks us. Compassion can be costly and again we might be broken in the process but we ordinary vessels are called to bring the good news to others. We can’t wait to be perfect, we can’t wait to be strong, we cannot even wait to grow up but just like Samuel, we are to be used at the moment we are called, and then for the rest of our lives. It is important for us to recognise that in the spreading of justice and compassion we are key to God’s plan.
And reconciliation- I haven’t talked about it at all, but it is clear that it is a matter both of justice and of compassion and that it is our job to make that clear in our world.
Jesus calls us to be his people who do good, to save life and not to kill, either literally or figuratively. God calls us to be people whose capacity for compassion matches his own in order that his light might shine forth and his glory be revealed.