Foolish Wisdom

Wisdom 6: 12-16; I Thess 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

I don’t need to convince anyone here that we live in rather hostile times. How else do you describe what we witnessed this past week in the church shooting in Texas when someone feels they can just walk in and obliterate people. Or even here in Baltimore. We’re not even at the end of the year and the death toll due to violence has exceeded 300. It’s hard to comprehend. There also seems to be an increase in stories of accusations of assault against people. That’s just the actions of people. It doesn’t take into account the hostility we experience with the vile that often comes out of mouths and plastered on social media and other outlets. How can any of us deny this surge in hostility. It seems and feels as if there is this great upheaval taking place in politics, Church, and other facets of our lives that it seems to feed into that hostility. As much as we want to seek this sense of permanence and cling to it, there just isn’t other than what we seem to fear the most, death.
Matthew’s community which we’ve heard from all year was not much different. The reasons for such hostility may or may not have been different but he consistently worried about the community and whether it would survive. There were strong divisions between Jews, the Messianic Jews, who would go on to become Christians, as well as pagan and more secular people, all of which felt that they held the mantle of truth and found ways to hold it over the others. Matthew consistently tries to move the community to this deeper reality of who they are and despite differences in beliefs, way of life, knowledge, or anything else, there is something that binds them all. But when they and we get caught up in our tribes, our way of thinking, thinking we hold this mantle of truth and complete knowledge, hostility arises and there is less and less space for others, and quite frankly, the Other.
In these final three weeks of the liturgical year Matthew will once again make this push to this deeper reality by the telling of parables. We hear the parable of the virgins this week, followed by the talents, and climaxing with the sheep and goats on the final Sunday. Today, though, is this parable that appears to be filled with contradictions. There are these so-called wise virgins who appear on the surface to be given some kind of reward for their presence. However, their actions don’t speak great volumes in terms of wisdom. No sooner it is announced that the bridegroom is arriving, the foolish virgins seek help from the wise virgins, and yet, they want nothing to do with them. They shut them off and only worry about themselves rather than help the one in need. Go buy your own stuff and worry about yourself they are told. They go about their business only to lock the door behind them as they enter the party only to shut themselves off as some form of protection from the outside elements. It doesn’t sound like great wisdom.
But remember, this is how they envisioned God and now Jesus plays on words and uses stories to point out what they miss. The only other image that sounds so stark in Scripture is the closing of the tomb, death, cutting off from everyone else. Yet, there they were. Like today, it’s about insiders outsiders, the better than and less than, who holds the mantle and who doesn’t, who’s wise and who’s a fool. Yet, in the process, the parable reveals something about them and their own understanding of God and themselves. In the seeking of wisdom, one must first learn to embrace death and a reality and a part of who we are. It is in letting go that we begin to realize that maybe the best any of us can do is accept the fact that I may have some wisdom but I could be a damn fool all at the same time, ready and yet not ready. Like the parable, we tend to be filled with such contradictions. But for the Pharisees and their understanding of God, it was all about how it appeared and if we don’t move to that deeper reality we never really see that I am both wise and foolish, living and dying with each passing breath.
We hear in that first reading today from Wisdom that our lives are about seeking that gift of wisdom and the eternal. As a matter of fact, seeking wisdom leads us to the eternal. When we feel we carry this mantle of truth and certainty, there’s not much room for wisdom and for that matter, the other. Wisdom, and our ability to let go, leads us from a life of hostility to a life of hospitality, where we have space for the other, and quite frankly, we’re free to be ourselves. There is great wisdom in accepting that I am not all-knowing and I don’t carry the mantle of truth because it frees me to be myself and unlike the Pharisees, don’t feel the need to try to be someone other than I really am, both wise and foolish all at the same time.
Quite frankly, there is some wisdom found even in the foolish virgins if we’re willing to look a little deeper. They come empty, with nothing holding them back. They ask for help when needed, even in despair. Yet, they find themselves rejected, but not rejected by God but by who they thought God was, the Pharisee who felt it was their duty to guard the door and judge who comes and who doesn’t. So they’re not rejected by God but rather by us. We will hear this now these next weeks in our own seeking of wisdom and learning to let go of these images of God that no longer work in our lives and hinder us from going deeper in our lives. The hostility that arises with Jesus isn’t because of lack of knowledge or wisdom. He certainly proves himself in that way. The hostility comes when he shows hospitality to the excluded, the outsiders, the foolish ones as they were known. Jesus shows us a God who has space for both the wise and the fool.
As we make this journey together, as Paul reminds us today, we seek that wisdom, the eternal, that frees us to be who we are, often contradictory in our own lives and yet still loved by God. When we can begin to accept that about ourselves we become less hostile towards others, learn to respond with love, and honestly, become even more dangerous in such a hostile world because we are set free to love as God loves, the wise and the fool. Quite frankly, it’s all we can really ask for in this life. We pray for the grace to accept and to be aware of this deeper reality in our own lives, that we are both wise and fool, ready and not ready, open and closed, all at the same time. And yet, infinitely still loved by God in our fullness.

 

A Worthy Influence

2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16; Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11; Matt 10: 37-42

The connection the Church tries to make with our readings today, particularly the first and gospel, is that of hospitality.  The woman in the first reading is hospitable to Elisha as he passes to and from their town and then link it with the same message in today’s gospel from Jesus. And certainly hospitality is important and learning to be hospitable to one another could do great wonders for all of us.

However, I think we miss the point of the story if we stick to simply what we see and the obvious in these readings.  I don’t need to tell anyone here that in most of these stories the role of being hospitable was that of the woman of the home.  If we stick to that theme all we really do is enforce what is expected of her and in many ways make her small, confining her to a role and some social construct that she is a part of.

Notice in the story that she’s is not referred by any name but is called a woman of influence.  Of course when we hear that word certain things come to mind with people of influence, wealth, power, some kind of authority or whatever the case may be.  But that’s not true in this case.  That would be her husband in that time.  Her influence is something different, a worthy or holy influence.  There’s something different about her connection with Elisha that goes beyond simply being hospitable. 

Elisha has struggled with his own call of being a prophet even though she keeps referring to him as a holy person.  As the story continues, she will receive what Elisha promises, a son.  However, the son dies rather quickly, leaving her as it would any mother, simply beside herself trying to make sense out of all of it.  She will then proceed, with her holy influence, to make her way to Elisha, breaking every social barrier and construct in the way because of this deeper connection.  As much as she affirms his own prophetic call, he in turn, on a deeper level, affirms her own prophetic call, as if the divine is speaking to the divine with the two.  It doesn’t stop her from being hospitable and living the role that is expected of her, but it also doesn’t get in the way of being something more, something bigger.

That’s also the message that Jesus conveys to the apostles today as Matthew continues this understanding of the conditions of discipleship.  Please understand, Jesus is not telling them to somehow hate or not love their parents, their siblings, or anyone for that matter.  This message is about roles, identities, and expectations that they, and us for that matter, grow up with, that often stand in conflict of us going to that deeper place within ourselves.  We all grow up in some type of familial structure and social structure that has helped to define us and our place, just as it was for the disciples, maybe even more so at that time.  The message of Jesus is always about trust and letting go and to begin to identify ourselves through a different lens, through that of the Christ.  That is where we will find our truest identity and where the other relationships them flow.  As the learn to trust this deeper reality and calling, they will do as the woman does in today’s first reading in finding a worthy influence on the world.

That is the message of Paul as well today in the second reading to the Romans.  He reminds them that the Christ dies no more, the eternal, which Paul himself had to seek and find in his own life.  It is no longer about living for his own purpose and what the world calls him to be, in a defined role of sorts, but he now lives for God.  That’s what makes all these characters different and iconic figures for us in our own spiritual lives.  Sure she was hospitable and that alone is a good thing, but she is much more than that as well, just like myself and each of you.

None of it is easy and it is a lifelong process for each of us as we grow into this deeper identity where we learn to speak the divine to the divine.  It’s how we begin to see each other as equal because we are no longer limited by what we see with our eyes, what’s expected of society, or even what we have grown up with in our lives.  At some point all of it makes not only us small but everyone else we limit in the same way.  She was hospitable not because it was her role, but because she did everything in and through the divine, in and through the Christ.  We all have roles but the roles don’t define us as people, as much as we sometimes think they do and make us feel worthy or of influence.  In a worldly way, possibly, but not a worthy or holy influence as exhibited in the readings today.  Our greatest influence we can have on the world will never come with power and money and certainly not our pride.  Rather, it comes when we find that divine within and proceed to live our lives in the same we.  It’s how we find that equality and it’s how we see each other as brother and sister, no longer bound by our eyes and no longer bound by the world but rather a life lived in and through the Christ.  That’s the worthy influence we can and are called to in this world.

Loving Exposure

2 Sam 12: 7-10, 13; Luke 7:36–8:3

In the first reading and Gospel today, we encounter a man and woman who have both sinned, and as we say, sinned boldly in their own way. We can’t say that we know much about the sin of the woman in today’s Gospel other than what is projected onto her by Simon and the pharisees that gather at table with Jesus in the scene. Ironically, them trying to expose her simply exposes their own sin, but like many of us, they are blinded by it. They can’t see their own sin and so try to expose it onto the other.

The first reading, though, well, we kind of know what David has been up to. Long story short, David finds himself drowning in his own sin. He has had relations with Bathsheba and gets her pregnant, but in order to cover things up, he then has her husband, Urriah the Hittite, murdered while on the front line of battle. He then has to deal with the consequences of the death of the child that he has with Bathsheba. So, we can say, things aren’t necessarily going in David’s direction at the moment. But then there’s Nathan. Nathan loves David. He cares about his well-being and is, in many ways, a spiritual mentor to David. He knows he’s been a loose canon and he’s going to try to reel him in now. That, though, is what allows Nathan to be that person to David. David is young and naive. His own lustfulness gets the best of him. He’s abusing the power that has been given to him. Yet, Nathan has a love for him and sheds light onto his sin. He loves him regardless of his sin and David repents. Only in and through love that such sin not only be exposed but be transformed at the same time.

Then there is this gospel story we hear today from Luke. There’s a whole lot going on at this dinner that Jesus was invited to for the evening. We can question the invitation that Jesus is given in the first place. There seems to be an ulterior motive on the part of Simon at this point. Then there is the woman who has sinned and is exposed by all of them at the table. Of course, they’re so blinded by it that they can’t see the judgment that they are casting upon her. Everything about her actions says that she has experienced forgiveness on a deeper level. Her encounter with Jesus has everything to do with him and his love for her and the freedom that it brings her in life. She no longer has to be burdened or identified by her sin. It doesn’t take away the fact that she had sinned, but at the same time, had a heart ready to receive forgiveness and love in return.

So maybe the story is more about Simon and the Pharisees that gather at table, understanding that there is a pharisee in all of us that continuously wants to judge us and put us down, tell us that we’re less than ourselves. If we haven’t had that experience of love, we begin to believe what the Pharisee says and the criteria in which they judge. Everything about their actions, including Simon, says just the opposite of the woman, they are in no place in their own lives to be open to the freedom given by love and forgiveness. They can’t even accomplish the basic expectations of hospitality to the guest because of their judgment. All they can see is what they see and they see her sin and not their own. They can’t accept what is given to them and the love that is sitting at their table! They have become so blinded by their sin that not even the love of Jesus can penetrate the judgement that weighs their hearts. The reality is, the gift is always being freely given and we exemplify it through our charity as the woman in the gospel does today.

They are challenging readings for us today because they push us to look at the blindspots of our own lives and where, like the pharisees, fail to see our sin, our failure to love, our failure to forgiven and be forgiven. It’s so easy to choose to live our lives that way rather than allow ourselves to be open to something new that can take shape when we allow love to penetrate our hearts. Hopefully we all have the Nathan’s in our lives that can shed light on our shadow through their love or as Jesus does in the gospel today. Neither tells them how to live their lives, but rather points them in the direction towards love and in love, all at the same time. As we gather at this Eucharist, we pray that we too may be exposed in such a way that love poured out on this Table can penetrate our own hearts, to free us from judgment, and transform us into love and to become love to the people we encounter in our lives.