Monday, September 24, 2007

The Humble and Proud

Monday, September 24, 2007 -- Week of Proper 20

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 984)
Psalms 80 (morning) 77, [79] (evening)
2 Kings 5:1-19
1 Corinthians 4:8-21
Matthew 5:21-26

We have some delightful images of the reversal of standing in the first and second readings today. The story of Naaman and Elisha is a wonderful folk tale. It is a fine example of a story that a subject people might tell to reassert their dignity and respect. (Historical note: the story presumes a time when Aram/Syria was predominate over Israel. That was the case during the reign of Jehu, but not during the Omri dynasty when Elisha lived. It may be an earlier story that was attached to Elisha's collection.)

The reversals of status are entertaining. Naaman is a powerful warrior, but he is unclean and leperous. His little slave girl from Israel instructs him about his healing. He goes to the king of Israel with great money offerings for his healing, and the king despairs because he has no power to heal. The great procession arrives at Elisha's modest abode, and Elisha doesn't even go to meet him, but sends him word by a messenger. Elisha's word of instruction is laughingly modest -- go wash in the Jordan seven times. The big man is furious -- my rivers make the Jordan look like a brook! But his servants talk him into modest obedience. He's healed, and promises to worship the Lord of Israel. But he asks forgiveness when he must perform his duty at home. That duty is to help his feeble king walk into the house of their idol. He calls the idol "Rimmon, meaning "pomegranate" mocking the title Ramman, an ascription of the Syrian god Hadad. He takes dirt from Israel back to his home so he can worship YHWH there while standing on the soil of Israel. This is the kind of folk tale that would have delighted its listeners. Talking bad about the big people.

Paul scolds the Corinthians for their pride. He contrasts their wealth and power with his own poverty and low standing. "We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day." From his servant-position of humility, Paul reasserts his authority over the Corinthians as their "father through the gospel." He promises to return and address their arrogance, unless they reform their ways. He finishes strong: "Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?"

It is a constant theme in scripture that honor and power are God's alone. We cooperate with God most effectively when we act as servants who humbly mediate God's works of power. In fact, humility is a required characteristic if we are to be open to God's power that can do wonderful things. Elisha and Paul are examples of humble servants who are able to mediate God's presence and power. Naaman and the arrogant Corinthians offer prideful contrasts.

Paul embraces his low state eloquently. "For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day."

As a comfortable, wealthy people in a nation that is proud and powerful, it is a challenge to receive these admonitions. Are we able to see and acknowledge God's presence and work among the humble and poor? Are we able to let go of our own privilege for the sake of the humble path where God is present?



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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.


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