Monday, March 19, 2012

Generosity in a Pluralistic World

Monday, March 19, 2012 -- Week of 4 Lent
Saint Joseph

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 955)
Psalms 89:1-18 (morning)     //        89:19-52 (evening)
Genesis 49:1-28      
1 Corinthians 10:14 - 11:1      
Mark 7:24-37  

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

How do we live rightly in a pluralistic world?  Today's New Testament readings raise old issues that are new every day.

Paul returns to the subject that occupied a great deal of his attention in chapter eight of First Corinthians.  Jewish Christians and Gentile converts are learning how to live together.  They have different dietary, social, and religious customs.  In the new multi-cultural society of the followers of Jesus, they are experiencing the stimulation and strains that are the fruits of  diversity.

Paul tells the new community:  Be sensitive to one another.  Do not give offense over diverse customs.  Respect the scruples of those who have customs that seem odd to you.  Do not use your knowledge or freedom to insult the conscience of one who comes from a different belief system.

One of the reasons Paul's churches are having to deal with these complex social interactions is a direct result of the example of Jesus, chronicled in today's reading from Mark and elsewhere.  Both of today's Gospel stories occur outside Israel.  Jesus heals among the Gentiles.  In doing so, he violates the purity and holiness codes of his own religion and culture.  He is among unclean people, according to his Jewish tradition.

The story of the Gentile woman who interrupts Jesus's house visit seems like a watershed.  Up until now in Mark's Gospel, Jesus has confined his healing and preaching within Israel and only to his Jewish brothers and sisters.  His initial reaction to her interruption is to reinforce this boundary.  "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  The children are the heirs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Biblical language and common speech referred to Gentiles as "dogs".  What Jesus says to the woman is exactly what a Gentile would expect him to say.

The woman's response is remarkable.  "Sir (or Lord), even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."  Amazing!  Jesus hears her disarming words -- words of faith -- and instantly he responds with compassion to heal her daughter.  His next activity will take him to the Gentile territory on the other side of Israel, the Decapolis.  There he will heal and touch those whom his religious tradition regards as unclean and untouchable.  In Mark's gospel, from the moment Jesus meets this Gentile woman, there is no distinction in Jesus's ministry.  He offers his message, friendship, and gifts to the Gentiles as freely as he does to the Jews.  His generous, open practice caused great offense, scandal, and opposition.  It is one reason he was killed.

Our culture experiences similar strains.  We have our own boundaries between clean and unclean, native and foreigner, people-like-us and people-different-from-us.  Will we treat them like dogs?  Or will the compassion and table fellowship of Jesus and Paul be extended through us in our generation?

Lowell

Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"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 missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

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 www.stpaulsfay.org

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

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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