Monday, August 1, 2011 — Week of Proper 13, Year One
Joseph of Arimathaea
To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, 978)
Psalms 80 (morning) 77,  (evening)
2 Samuel 7:1-17
In the scripture, yeast is usually used as a metaphor for decay or corruption. A little yeast will quietly affect the whole measure of flour, just like a little evil or sin will quietly affect the whole community. Today we read of Jesus warning the disciples about the “yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” There might be several ways of thinking of these warnings. A couple of yeasty characteristics come to my mind.
The Pharisees sought to promote religious observance. They urged people to be righteous, to follow the law and practice the ritual observances. They called those who would not, or could not follow the observances, sinners. Some Pharisees fell into the habit of judgment and condemnation, seeing only two camps of people — the righteous and the sinners. Though they believed themselves to be promoting good religious practice, the effect was to create separation and alienation within the community.
The Herodians were all about power. They were given power by the Roman occupiers to keep the peace at whatever cost to the innocent, to control the situation with whatever alliance is necessary. Herod successfully empowered certain Jewish elites to help him consolidate power and he cooperated with Roman occupiers to keep the country secure. Security always trumped justice.
Beware of such yeast, the yeast of power and division. It is always hostile to the kind of unity and compassion that Jesus practiced.
A bit further in this reading, Jesus asks the disciples recall the two great feedings they have witnessed. “‘When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?'”
A possible understanding. The first feeding was done in Israel, and the twelve baskets full represent the twelve tribes of Israel. It is a meaning that any Jew would have perceived. The second feeding was done in the Gentile country of the Decapolis. Jesus is among Gentiles, and he heals and feeds them just has he has among his own people. The feeding story follows follows Jesus’ healings of a Syrophonenician woman’s child and a deaf man from the region. After this feeding, there are seven baskets left over. The standard Greek meaning of “seven” is “perfection.” (3 represents the spiritual order; 4 the created order; 4+3=7 — completion/perfection) This is a numerical meaning that any Greek would have perceived.
Jesus treats Jew and Greek with equal compassion — feeding and healing all, and communicating with them through their own symbolic systems. He does not tell the Gentiles that they must join his religion before he feeds, heals, and gives Good News. He doesn’t separate, but rather he unifies. He eats with both. He does not play power games. He only loves and serves.
Today is the feast of Joseph of Arimathaea, a patron saint for all of us who are wealthy (and that’s most of the people who are reading this, including me). It is Joseph who courageously claimed the body of a convicted capital criminal and provided for a proper burial in his own tomb, despite the possible consequences from the authorities who had executed Jesus. He is one who used his power and wealth with compassion and generosity. He is an example for all of us who are comfortable — to use our power for care and advocacy on behalf of the poor and oppressed.