by Kristin Fontaine
I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish
And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.
Teach me to live, that I may dread
the grave as little as my bed;
teach me to die, that so I may
rise glorious at the awful day.
~Hymn: Glory to thee, my God, this night
Words: Thomas Ken, 1692 Music: Tallis’ Canon
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
These are the readings (and a section from a hymn) that I pulled out of the morning and evening prayer for Monday, Proper 6. I didn’t so much draw inspiration from them as they raised questions in my mind.
Why does Paul say that he is a debtor to both Greeks and barbarians?
How much does it change the meaning of that paragraph when I change between the New Revised Standard (debtor) and the Revised Standard Edition (obligation) of that passage? To me, being in debt to something or someone carries more variation in meaning than having an obligation to something or someone. I can have an obligation to make dinner or do something that ties me to a particular time or place. With a debt I can owe for learning from different traditions, for being inspired, for gratitude, for money. To be a debtor to me implies not only being tied to something like obligation but also to carry something forward into the world. If I am in debt to someone who shared and idea with me, I can’t repay that debt by giving the idea back to the person I got it from. I can only pay it forward into the world.
Why does Jesus call his disciples ‘faithless and perverse’? They are not the Son of God, he is.
The more I think about this passage, the more I think it represents the frustration Jesus felt with his disciples just not getting it. He has been living and traveling with them, trying to get them to understand his message of love and they keep coming back to him for more. They are never content to trust what he has just told them (and told them and told them). Jesus has explained in every way he can that he is God’s love come among us. He used metaphor, parables, and straight talk. He preached sermons, healed the sick, raised the dead, and overturned th money changers table. He has whispered and shouted. He has told and he has shown. He knows how little time he has and he’s getting fed up with how his message keeps bouncing off of his disciples. If they don’t get it, if the people he spends the most time with don’t understand him and what he is trying to say, how can he expect the message to get out to the world? His despair at their obtuseness boils out as rage when, yet again, they point to him as the center and locus of the power and love of God.
I know why the quote from the hymn spoke to me. It is how I try to live my life– particularly the first part of the quote:
Teach me to live, that I may dread the grave as little as my bed;. I desire to live life as fully as possible. For me that includes accepting the reality of death without living in fear every day. My faith helps me do that by showing me that death is the final community. We all belong to the group of things that die and Jesus has joined us on the journey. He not only died for us, he dies with us. He gives us the greatest gift of his presence and he does not hold himself aloof from us or our mortality.
I know also why I pulled the final quote:
Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. It is a passage that speaks to me not only of the hope and belief that these women had for the message of Jesus but of the recognition that a message of God’s love on earth doesn’t spread by itself. It requires resources and organization, it requires planning, saving, and thinking ahead. And it requires trust that he people you are giving your money, time, goods to will take your offerings and use them to reach people who need to hear that God loves them and that they are can be love made manifest.
Here is the message that and exasperated Jesus was trying to get through to his disciples. He is not always going to be there to show the way and demonstrate what needs to be done.
Mary, Joanna, and Susanna understood that they were going to need to roll up their sleeves and do the daily grind needed to provide resources to get the word out.
That word is LOVE and it takes a lot of work to get the message out in a world of fear, anxiety, and hateful anger.
The world needs more Marys, Joannas, and Susannas. Will you take up their challenge and do the work to get out the Word?
All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: Public Domain