XVI Pentecost, Year B
Prv 31:10-31 or * Wis 1:16-2:1,12-22 or Jer 11:18-20
Ps 1 * Ps 54
A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food fromfar away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: "Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
* (Wisdom 1:16)
Life as the Ungodly See It But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.
* (Wisdom 2:1)
For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, "Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.
* (Wisdom 2:12-22)
"Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture, so that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected." Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;
* (Jeremiah 11:18-20)
It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; then you showed me their evil deeds. But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!" But you, O LORD of hosts, who judge righteously, who try the heart and the mind, let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about onthe way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
What were they discussing? Who would be greatest; they still harbored illusions that Jesus would come with power (= the use of justifiable violence). They would not have been discussing the possibilities of ‘greatness’ unless they were thoroughly caught up in mimesis. Here they are, as they are traveling along the road toward Capernaum, comparing themselves to one another. Who did what, who followed Jesus first, who Jesus preferred to spend time with, who was the eldest, who had more clout with Jesus. This discussion is that of mimetic doubles and it continues to the present day.
The Christian churches are replete with mimetic doubling. To which church will Jesus show favor? Which version of the Christian life will Jesus most highly regard? Which view of sanctification or Eucharist or earnest moral piety will Jesus select as the best when we all arrive at the Pearly Gates? Within churches themselves this mimetic doubling can be seen in the power struggles of the various committees, the old time guard that faithfully keeps watch over the tomb of old time religion, or among those who prove themselves by their devoted bible study. Whom will the pastor prefer?
This mimetic doubling should already be an indication that the churches have not yet moved from the realm of their theology of glory to a theology of the cross. They still labor under the spell of the deus ex machina, as though the God of the cross did not exist. We offer as proof the effects of mimesis in American church life. If Christianity were a whole, we would expect just a few churches to be registered with the government as tax-exempt institutions. As it is there are over 400,000 different tax exempt institutions registered with the government. There are over 4,000 different types of Baptists. Talk about competition.
Sadly, most of these church traditions (not to mention the sectarian groups) compare themselves to one another as did the disciples. The Lutherans castigate the Catholics, the Baptists turn on one another, the holiness churches rail against the liberals and so on. There are divisions in Christian communities that revolve around issues that are deemed key, important, or essential but are nothing more than mimetic shadows cast by the pride of the Christian. Christians examine one another to see ‘if they are in the faith.’ Have a different view of scripture than another and you might be consigned to hell fire. Think differently on a social issue (e.g., poverty, sexuality, sanctioned violence) and you may find yourself being separated from the community. All of our internal church squabbles are nothing more than negative mimesis rearing its ugly head and it does so in no more dangerous place than in our christology.
Once we are convinced that God (or Jesus) also engages in negative mimetic doubling we have justification for our conviction that we might be the greatest. Without even knowing it, without being aware, in our negative mimetic doubling we inhabit the place of the prince of hell who rejoices over our inability to see that it is only the Crucified that redeems.
Jesus has two things to say. First he observes that the desire to be first should be founded upon one’s willingness to go to the bottom of the pile where there is no glory, no glamour, no fame, no fortune, in short, all of things we associate with the (sic) blessing of God. While we are happy sitting at the table, eating and drinking and carousing, God’s eye does not shine on us but on the one we have disdained, the one who serves. Sitting at table, we are tempted to feel privileged, above the rest and we tend to think of ourselves as deserving of our position. Are we not holy? Are we not righteous? Do we not tithe or speak in tongues? Do we not attend Bible study? Who is more worthy than us to sit at Jesus’ table? Do we not break bread and baptize with water? Do we not affirm the pastor or the Pope? Have we not demonstrated our commitment to the church Sunday by Sunday, year in and year out? Yet across the spectrum of American Christianity those who sit at the table arguing amongst themselves far outnumber the servants who care for them.
Whenever the churches are engaged in this kind of mimesis, rest assured that a scapegoat is not far behind; for at some point those who believe themselves worthy will find a way to prove their worth by extruding or excluding another, adding another body to the pile beneath their feet so they can rise a little higher. Service at the expense of another human being is not service at all.
Why does Jesus choose a child? Why would anyone welcome a child into their midst? What does welcoming a child have to do with service? Well think of it this way: what exactly do children contribute? Noise, needs, questions, short attention spans. They have no real productive skills. These are the kinds of people Jesus is inviting us to welcome? If that is the case how on earth will the Kingdom of God grow? We need “spiritual warriors,” men and women of distinction. Ever notice how animated Christians get whenever a ‘Christian’ celebrity gets some air time? As though Jesus needed air time. As though John 3:16 signs in end zones were a proclamation of the Gospel. What the Church needs is more followers of Jesus and fewer “Christians”, people who are willing to look to the God of Jesus, the God of the suffering Son of Man.
Away with all of the fancy packaging of mimetic American spirituality! Away with a theology of glory! Away with all of the fighting and arguing we do in his holy name! Until we learn the lesson that the disciples were to learn that day as they listened to Jesus in the house at Capernaum, we will not even be ready to begin the journey he has called us on.
We frequently encounter people who measure their spirituality by how they serve the institution as though the church was not made of people. And while they praise the institution they lambaste others who attend as unworthy. Sadly, clergy can also fall under the spell of mimesis. Our desire for bigger and better churches, offerings and ministries captivates us. The entire emphasis on church growth in America only developed because of the decline in overseas missions. All of this has to do with negative mimesis, getting other people to be like us. No matter whether here at home or in someone else’s home we validate ourselves if we can get others to be like us.
There has been plenty written about so-called servant leadership. So why hasn’t it penetrated either the church’s leadership? Why do television ‘pastors’ continue to do their middle class thing, preaching their upwardly-mobile gospel (sic)? How is it that we do not desire to get our hands dirty by dealing with ‘dirty’ people? We assuage our guilt by sending missionaries to impoverished nations forgetting that our comfort is derived from the fact of their poverty. But when we come back to America we feel good about ourselves because we have ‘given them the gospel.’ This is farcical.
Thankfully, there are clergy and Christians alike who know better. They are willing to reach out to the non-productive, the undesirable, the outcast. These are our examples of servant leadership. They may not be popular, they may not have fancy media, nor big homes, nor middle class incomes, but they are out there welcoming ‘children’ in Jesus’ name and thus serving. Lest we forget, we must examine our concept of service and its “source and ground in Jesus Christ, for it was the kind of person he was and the kind of ministry he undertook that determined the form and mode of all Christian service.” (Thomas Torrance “Service In Jesus Christ” in Service in Christ.)