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Down to Size

Down to Size

Monday, September 23, 2013 — Week of Proper 20, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalms 80 (morning) // 71, (79) (evening)

2 Kings 5:1-19

1 Corinthians 4:8-21

Matthew 5:21-26

It’s not easy to make it through all three of our readings today without feeling cut down to size. Hardly a trace of arrogance or self-confidence will survive these Scriptures! Although they are difficult reading, these passages help us to start our week not in the pride of our own strength, but in the humility of beloved children.

In our first reading, a military commander named Naaman is humbled by a prescription for healing from the prophet Elisha. To cure the commander’s leprosy, Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman, instructing him to bathe in the Jordan seven times. Naaman is angry and refuses: “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy!”

The most revealing two words in this quote are “for me.” Naaman expects personal attention and dramatic intervention. In the end, Naaman is convinced by his servants to take the sevenfold bath. Then, “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” By overcoming his expectation of special treatment and by listening to his servants, Naaman is healed and becomes as fresh as a child.

The Corinthians also need a lesson in humility. Apparently, they think that their power and wealth are signs of their place in the kingdom of God. Paul writes in sarcastic disbelief: “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have becoming kings!” Paul and his companions are far from kings. Their membership in the kingdom of God has made them “like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things.”

Paul wants the Corinthians to follow his own example because he is a father to them and not just one of many guardians or nannies. Although the Corinthians have become arrogant, Paul asks them to return to a faith that calls them not to greater wealth and power, but to deeper humility.

Finally, our gospel today undermines what confidence we may have that we are pleasing God through our obedience and offerings. Jesus teaches his disciples that they cannot fulfill the commandment “You shall not murder” merely by not killing anyone. Rather, anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, who insults a brother or sister, or who calls someone a fool will be liable to judgment. And anyone who is about to offer God a gift at the altar and realizes that a brother or sister has something against them should first seek reconciliation. Only after reconciling with our brothers and sisters should we make our offering to God.

Jesus teaches that God’s highest concern is not whether we obey commandments or offer gifts. More important than following commandments or offering worship is learning how to live with our brothers and sisters, our fellow children of God.

So, how do you measure up against the Scriptures that try to cut us down to size? Some words from Paul are consoling here: “I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” Difficult Scripture passages may make us feel chastised or diminished. At their best, though, they ask us to build our lives on the knowledge that we are all, first and foremost, beloved children.

Beloved children. No less, no more.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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