A peek at what’s coming up next Sunday
In these golden years of retirement with the spring sunshine streaming onto my desk, I hear this text as if the ruminations of a wizened old man in a rocking chair on his front verandah. In his reminiscing, he is reeling off all the life lessons he has learned and there is still fire in the belly. Suddenly (in the middle of verse 17), he sits up and leans forth, a fierce shimmering in his eyes! He is leading up to a summary life commandment for any who will listen: Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
Here is an expression of confidence that the good and righteous will prevail. It has been an interesting week of debate over the role of the new Prime Minister’s personal faith in his public life and particularly as a head of state. As his position came about through a very non-edifying “ides of March” display that is still playing out and critics analyse previous cabinet minister policy formation in the light his faith stance, it is clear that this Psalm comes under the category of Walter Brueggemann’s “Psalms of Orientation” – not quite addressing the period of disorientation we are experiencing right now. It’s a psalm that tells us where we ought to be. We look to the psalms of “disorientation” and “reorientation” that will hopefully put us back on track. My wistful hope is that the church in this country will not delegate its responsibilities to elected public officials but instead adopt its correct prophetic stance as salt and light as participants in a robust democracy.
In these early days of retirement and working out a reorientation to our finances, this passage throws down a fresh challenge. As I look at the spreadsheet indicating assets, including realised lifetime investments and dramatically decreased income, I realise two things. Although we have generally lived close to the wire, we dwell amongst the richest in the world, yet to manage this requires some astuteness if we are not to become a burden to others when the treasure house gradually depletes through the sheer cost of living. Our donations to charity and regular church life are under review. James’ text, it seems, is mostly a warning against showing partiality according to wealth and influence, preferring the well-positioned over more dependent members of the community. Conversely, it is also a timely reminder to always prefer the option of serving the poor.
Mark’s Gospel has Jesus breaking our expectations twice if we have not come across these two stories recently. On the surface, it seems he only reluctantly heals his foreign petitioner’s daughter after she chastises him with the depth of her faith. The same reluctance in the healing of the deaf stutterer, again in foreign territory, leads to Jesus swearing his disciples to secrecy. Why does Mark’s gospel tell these stories in this way? Does it have something to do with the first hearers of this gospel finding themselves under great duress as they fled Nero’s persecution? Danger, risk, speed, furtive exchanges, and mistrust might have marked their habitual discourse. Does Mark’s gospel cast Jesus as a fellow traveller who does not abandon his followers in their emotional extremity?