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Posts Tagged ‘Lectionary’

I was reflecting on the man who found a treasure and immediately bought the field where it lay.  His friends and neighbors probably warned him about all the disasters that could happen, about the risks he had foolishly taken—anything but simply celebrating with him and sharing his good fortune.  Or else they didn’t even notice.  He went to his neighbor and said, “I just bought a field . . .” and immediately his neighbor was droning on about all his problems with the crops and the insects and the family and the Romans.  Finding a friend later he says I’ve found an unbelievable treasure in my field.”  But instead of congratulating him, the friend says, “That’s nice but what if it belongs to someone else?  What if someone comes to claim it?  You better not let yourself enjoy it.  You better think about these questions.  I don’t want you to get hurt.”

And then there’s the man with his pearl.  He sells all he has and the pearl is his.  He gazes in sheer delight at its purity and lustrous beauty, its warmth and precious value.  He’s searched for this all his life.  He’s seen other people with fine pearls but one of his own had eluded him.  But now friends invite him over and they’re obsessed with string after string of gaudy fake pearls and he wonders if he’s overvalued his own?  And if not, could they ever comprehend anything so precious?  They seem content and yet he suspects they’re unhappy, insecure, defensive, immature.  He knows because he was like them once, weary of the search and settling for imitation.  What help is his pearl in a situation like this?  He finds himself withdrawing, staying away from them, unable to take part in their cheap entertainment, but not comfortable shutting himself away from others.  The treasure is not without its price!  He shows his family and they pretend to be interested, pleased, impressed, but all the time are they thinking, “Why couldn’t it be me?  I’d like a pearl like that too.”  It’s not that he doesn’t want to share, but a pearl can’t be split.

But perhaps one day a man is walking by the seashore, content with his life, secure in his treasure, and he meets another.  They talk of the beauty of the sea, the sunset, of evening star and velvet sky.  They talk of sadness and joy, of pain and of healing,  of anger and ecstasy.  One finally takes a deep breath and says, “I, uh, one day, I mean, I just sort of found this treasure . . .”  and the other says, “Then maybe you would know what it is to have a wondrous pearl.”  The first one breathes, “Yes!”  And a bond deeper than anything either of them has known is formed.  For the first time someone understands not only the treasure but the aloneness.  And in that understanding, there’s no more alone. And if they meet a woman with a dusty coin, a shepherd with a lost lamb, a farmer with a handful of mustard seeds, a farmer’s wife with a batch of bread raising, a woman with an alabaster jar of perfume, a young man weary of feeding pigs but confused by the lights and music of a dinner of fatted calf, a fisherman on the seashore with a catch of fish beyond imagining, they will join with all of them in celebrating the search, the discovery, the joy in the treasure.

The images in the scriptures are rich and multidimensional, because they tell the story of our relationship with a God who is always leading us in new directions and challenging us to grow. We need to cherish the gift of our faith and find like-minded souls who understand and can rejoice with us. This can sometimes be difficult. But the gifts we have are meant to be shared. Sometimes it means taking a chance, risking embarrassment, risking that someone won’t understand or will be offended. We need to be rooted first in our own appreciation of how much the gift means in our own lives. And we need to be sensitive to times when we really do need to protect the treasure we’ve discovered. Never let anyone devalue the gift in your own eyes. One of the blessings of the Internet is that we have a much wider pool in which to find people who share our our dreams, our vision, our faith. And we have new ways of sharing that faith and those dreams with others.

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We all know what it’s like to be worn down by persistent pestering. Dogs and small children both learn from experience that sometimes it works to whine. And if it works at least once in a while, they know to try it again. And so it is with the parable Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The widow seeking justice finally wears down an admittedly hardened judge with her persistence. But we think of this as something we ought to outgrow. We’re a lot like the unjust judge, who gives in to the widow’s pleas, but doesn’t respect himself for it. Americans especially are raised with a sense that “God helps those who help themselves.” We don’t like to ask for help. And sometimes we don’t think that other people should ask for help either. We value independence, often at the expense of true hospitality.

Jesus seems to be reminding us that it’s okay to ask for what we need. Part of having faith means being willing to throw our cares and our needs and our desires on God simply because we believe that we deserve what it is that we seek, and that our gracious God wants to give it to us. Part of growing up means not that we no longer have needs but that we recognize which of our needs are truly worthy of being met.

In the reading from Exodus that’s paired with today’s Gospel, we see Moses praying for the victory of the Israelites over the Amalekites. The writer tells us that as long as Moses had his hands raised in prayer, even that meant someone else was holding his arms up, the battle went in favor of the Israelites. This seems to be an interpretation by the early Scripture writers of the way God’s presence in their midst furthered the fortunes of the Chosen People.

But we know that prayers and other religious rituals are not magic. Persistence and perseverance are strong virtues. The widow in today’s Gospel is seeking justice. This isn’t a whim or a selfish desire on her part that keeps her knocking at the judge’s door. She believes in the rightness of her cause. And she’s not going to be dissuaded if her first attempt doesn’t get a response. Part of Jesus’ message in telling this story is that we give up too quickly. The introduction to the parable talks about “the necessity for the disciples to pray always without becoming weary.” And Jesus closes his story with the rather enigmatic comment: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Faith is ultimately trusting that God wants what’s best for us. That trust will keep us asking for what we need. It will give us the strength to persist in our belief even when we’re tired, even when we doubt, even when we wonder whether our cause is worthwhile. And, like the people who held Moses’ arms and found him a rock to sit on, other people will join with us in our quest for justice, for peace, for God’s gracious answer to our prayers. Magic? No. This is the power of love, the power of prayer, the power of true faith.

Persistent prayer of petition reminds us that we need to be focused, we need one another, and we need God. When our need is great, when our cause is just, our faith tells us that we can depend on God to come through for us, even if it takes all night, even if it takes a lifetime.

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