Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reading parables (Proper 23 Year A)

Today’s parable (Matt 22) talks about a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son. The invited guests did not come so he invited those from the streets to come. When they did so, one was without a wedding garment and thrown into the outer darkness.
 This parable is another interesting one. It is the last parable in a little series of three. The other two being entitled (in my Bible) the parable of the two sons and the parable of the wicked tenants. (Matt 21).
 I want to look at this parable in my usual way. That is to take God out of the leading role. I do not think the king is a picture of God.
 Look at how he is described. One who becomes enraged, who sent out troops to destroy people and property and, finally, sent a poor person from the streets bound hand and foot into “outer darkness”.  This is not a picture of God
 Likewise, last week in the parable of the tenants. I don’t think the landowner is a picture of God either.  Landowners were not liked, actually we could be as strong as to say they were often hated. They were seen as those who kept most of the people in poverty. The economic system was such that the landowners were very rich. They usually lived away from their land in the cities. They paid the workers very little so that they were completely dependent on the landowners for sustenance. The workers were often continually in debt to the landowners as there was no relief if the crop should fail or be poor. To the landowner only profit was important, not the people who worked the land.
 Further more, although not always clear in our various biblical translations, the opening starts “there was a person (anthropos), a king”. Although it can be said that this was a typical Aramaism, we also have to consider that maybe Matthew was simply emphasizing that this was a human being not God. Interestingly, the same opening was used in last week’s parable about the landowner, “there was a person (anthropos), a landowner”. 
 I think these parables were simply a comment on the classist system of the day.
 The king is a powerful person who expected people to do his bidding. Perhaps, he was something of a tyrant. He was obviously not well like, friendless, none of the invited guests attended his son’s wedding. When he didn’t get his own way he sent in troops to cause harm and hardship. Then he demanded that the people in the streets were commanded to attend the wedding. They had no choice.
The poor had to do the bidding of the king. They were helpless and voiceless. They had no control over their own fate. Think about the person thrown into outer darkness. This person had no wedding garment, probably beyond the means of a poor person. Yet the king had no compassion, no provision for the poor one. This person had no voice. That is often the situation of those trapped in poverty.
 Why was just one chosen? When one reads the story it sounds like many of the ones compelled to attend were poor, so, perhaps, a little unrealistic to assume only one was improperly clothed.
 I, also, want to cast a glance at the responses of the Pharisees (although that probably encroaches on next week’s reading). After these parables they plotted to trap him.  Interestingly, their minds went immediately to Ceasar and paying taxes. But I will leave that for you to ponder!
 The same with last week’s reading. The passage comments that the chief priests and Pharisees realised Jesus was speaking about them. Perhaps, they saw themselves not as those who did not receive the servants and son of the landowner but as the ‘landowner’ in the parable. They were being exposed because of their unjust economic dealings with the populous.
 Therefore, I think one way of reading these parables is that they were a comment on the social system of the day. Jesus was exposing the injustice of the system to chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus was exposing how desperate, angry, helpless and voiceless the poor were feeling.
May we be as Christ to all we meet.  
May we help the desperate to find justice
May we help the angry to find peace
May we help the voiceless find a voice.

Blessings +Jane

Fairness (Proper 20 Year A)

 If the parables were intended to cause us to pause and think about the complexities of life this one has certainly succeeded.
 We have the story of a landowner who hired people to work in his vineyard. The landowner hired a group of workers early morning for an agreed wage. Then as the day progressed the landowner saw people who had been unable to find work still standing around waiting. They were also hired, some at 9:00, some at mid-day, some at 3:00 and, finally, some at 5:00. Then at 6:00 he paid each of them the same wage. Those who had worked all day received the same amount as those who had worked only an hour.  There was, of course, grumbling amongst the workers especially those who had worked the longest. The landowner reminded them that they had been paid the agreed wage.
 This is one of those parables that somehow makes us feel uncomfortable. Actually, as we read, part of us wants to say that is not fair! Even using a definition of fairness that says that fairness is not equality but ensuring that everyone gets what they need, it still feels unfair. These vineyard workers were only paid subsistence wages and even a day’s illness would cause much suffering and hunger for a family. A little extra was always needed.
 One of the things I always do with parables is take God out of the central role. Often parables are interpreted as if the main character is representative of God. Then one has to try to interpret the parable in such a way as to give the character God-like virtues ignoring or twisting the text to explain away when the central character behaves in a very un-Godlike manner! So this is not a story to be interpreted as the landowner represents God. This is simply a story about a landowner and some workers. That allows us the freedom to look honestly at the story and say maybe the landowner was unfair.
 I just want to interject at this point that as I read this and the other parables in this section, one of which John talked about last week. I wondered how much they were redacted. Clearly, last week’s was. There was talk about the “church” in a parable supposedly spoken pre-crucifixion. I wondered if maybe this was influenced by Paul and the early apostles, who had not physically been with Jesus and witnesses to the Easter event, trying to justify that they were worth as much. Anyway, no more on that thought!
 Let’s get back to fairness.  We see this scenario played over and over again in our society. The concept in this parable is not strange or unfamiliar to us. It is not new. Look at your places of work.  I know where I work most people work really hard, usually even through breaks and lunchtime. Yet, some get paid lots of money, others a pittance often with equally good college degrees and qualifications especially in the current economic climate.
 The Realm of God is not some distant utopia where in the words of  C.S. Lewis “wrong will be right”. (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) It is our reality now. As people of faith we are living in the Realm of God. Maybe unfairness is what we have and what we see around us.  This is the world we live in. (If I wanted to talk on a global scale the problem is more acute.)
 So what do we do with this unfairness?  That has got to be the key consideration. We live in a society where some have more and some have less. Some get sick, some stay well. Some live safely some face disasters. That is simply the way it is.  Often it is circumstantial we don’t get a choice.
 Remember the workers who didn’t get hired weren’t lazy or work-shy. Actually, they showed amazing perseverance. I don’t think I would have stood from 6:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening hoping for work.  Maybe, that is where we can see God, in the character of the workers who didn’t get hired until 5:00!
 This parable twists and turns, maybe the ones who didn’t get hired initially thought it was unfair that others got a full day’s work!
 So what do we do with this parable? What does it teach us?
 I think it is just simply that sometimes life seems fair and sometimes it doesn’t seem fair.  It is often beyond our control. Where we get a choice is how we live . . .
 “To be as Christ to those we meet, to find Christ within them”

 +Ab. Jane

If you love me ... (Easter 6 Year A)

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66: 8-20, 1 Peter 3: 13-22, John 14:15-21

Today’s lectionary readings have several interesting passages. We could have looked at the promise of the Holy Spirit or Paul revealing the unknown god to the Athenians.

However, the phrase that caught my attention was “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  A very simple, yet very strong statement. Love has an outworking and that is keeping the commandments as interpreted by Jesus . . . Love God, Love neighbour. 

It is the second of this couplet that I want to talk about. How do we love our neighbour?

As I pondered this another familiar phrase kept running through my mind. Well-known by all who have worked or do work within the medical field

“Primum non nocere”   First, do no harm. 

Love neighbour . . . First, do no harm

As I was thinking about these two statements they seemed to become connected and interwoven. If I love my neighbour I will first do no harm.

In the global climate we live in this has far-reaching implications. Our neighbour is no longer the person next-door or even someone living within the same village. Our neighbour is the whole of humankind. In the last few years we have seen how something that does harm in one part of the world effects another part.

Of course, individually we can’t do everything. We can’t help everyone. We can’t support every charity. We can’t be advocates for every cause.

But we can all do something!

Personally, loving neighbour/seeking to do no harm has led me in a number of directions . . .

Advocacy for women’s rights
Supporting and welcoming gay and lesbian friends
Fostering children who have been neglected and abused
Vegetarianism . . . unspeakable harm is done to our animal friends
Trying to be careful of the planet by using all non-harmful products, recycling and composting.

Each person’s journey of how to love neighbour will be different. These are our callings, our vocations  In Lindisfarne we can support each other as we seek to walk our own paths of loving neighbour/doing no harm. 

Perhaps some may want to share their journey as they seek to love neighbour/do no harm.

Blessings +Jane