Wednesday, October 1, 2014 – Proper 21, Year Two
[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 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (evening)
In one of my classes in seminary, we watched a documentary about female prostitutes in Chicago as they fought for life-changing legal reforms. At the time, criminal law punished the prostitutes themselves much more heavily and frequently than the men who hired them. To make things worse, a conviction for prostitution barred women from many other forms of employment, so they might never have other economic opportunities.
The prophet Hosea is keenly attuned to this sort of injustice, which places huge burdens of responsibility and punishment on women rather than on men or on the many factors that restrict low-income (or no-income) women to one and only one way of earning money. Speaking of his community’s “whoredom,” Hosea says on behalf of God, “I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with whores, and sacrifice with temple prostitutes.”
Like American criminal law dealing with prostitution, much of the sacred law in Hosea’s day disproportionately punished women for violating the community’s sexual ethics. But Hosea recognizes who really holds social, economic, and religious power in his community, and he will not shift blame and punishment away from them.
When my seminary professor showed us the documentary about Chicago’s prostitutes, he first read one simple verse from the gospel, which you may have heard in church last Sunday: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matthew 21:31). And indeed, the prostitutes in the documentary were truly leading us into the kingdom, discovering their power to create a more just society.
Today’s gospel reading also reminds us of the other people leading us into the kingdom: the tax collectors. Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to leave his tax booth and follow him, and Levi throws a big party for Jesus with several other tax collectors. The Pharisees aren’t too happy, of course. Jesus tells them that he, like a physician, seeks out the sick rather than the well.
But in what sense were prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners “sick”? Perhaps one prophetic gift of both Hosea and Jesus is that they see prostitutes, tax collectors, and other “sinners” not as pathogens, but as symptoms of a deeply ill society. The real obstacles to the kingdom of God in their times were the self-righteousness of religious leaders and the discrepancies in power that people could so easily leverage to exploit other people.
Today, may we follow the prophetic insight of Hosea and Jesus, and the lead of prostitutes and tax collectors, into God’s kingdom. And, for my part, may I also be thankful for the creative seminary professors who have helped me to see the many ways that the kingdom of God is at hand.
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.