Friday, November 29, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 327: Jonah 3; Psalm 119:1-32; Matthew 21

Being a Victim of Success
We tend to think of the word victim as being someone subjected to abuse or violence, be it natural (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc) or "unnatural" (assault, attack and/or murder). The older root of the word actually denotes a creature killed as a religious sacrifice. There is tragedy and loss enough in both definitions, but the second implies a purpose, of a kind.

We might not accept animal sacrifice as a legitimate expression of faith and piety in our society today, but be assured those practices are still out there. The idea of sacrifice was important in Jesus' time, to be sure. His sojourn into the temple courts and confrontations with the merchants and money-changers were a direct engagement on his part of the commodification of the worship of God--the marketing of sacrificial animals and the changing of Roman (image-based) money for temple shekels that had no graven images on them. I have heard many interpretations of this scene as a justification to separate church and commerce, but is that the point? Is there not a deeper issue at work here? How about this concept: that when we draw stark lines between our piety and our "regular" lives then God not only loses relevance in our itself becomes just another thing, and an unimportant one at that.

But that is not an option: not with Jesus, and certainly not for us. Jonah's preaching mission into Nineveh isn't even a third over before ALL the people hear the word from God that he preaches and what's more, then heed it! The king comes off his throne. Mourning clothes are put in as people answer the call to fast and pray that God may forgive and relent. Everything stops, and then everyone waits on God. Before they become victims as we know the word, they choose to commit themselves to a realization that they are already being poured out as a libation of witness to God's will. If God chooses to end them, then they are a sign. If God chooses to relent and spare them, then they are a sign. They realize, and Jonah's about to be surprised with regard to their responsiveness, that God is the one to focus on. The rest is dross.

Jesus is pushing that cart of goods toward us today, as well...what does it have in it? It's loaded with God's desire to be in relationship with us...and that we mark and celebrate that union in relationship and communion with the Christ. What does it lack? Stuff. The stuff that distracts, the stuff that fosters separation from God and each other...that is what is not there.

The charge to us is to not play, or make, the victim. That is not success in relationship with God. It is instead to seek and work on an intimacy with the Divine that also transforms the commerce of our day-to-day lives in such a way that what happens in the streets is the same as that which is consecrated in the holy of holies.

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