Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time — November 8, 2020
I have two things to say today – neither one necessarily connected to the other. But each one relates to items we just heard about in the readings for today.
First, when I looked over the readings I followed up by going to the Bible to read them in context. This is the end of the liturgical year when focus is on what in certain Christian circles is called End Time. In Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25 serves as the final teachings of Jesus before the story of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. These final teachings have one central thought – Be Prepared – while using varying types of imagery, such as wise and foolish attendants this week, a ruthless employer and a cagey employee next Sunday, and reward and punishment on the last Sunday of the year. The throughput to all these parables, though, is Be Prepared!
The context of the Thessalonians reading always is that this letter is chronologically among the first writings of the New Testament, predating even the writing of the Gospel of Mark. Its throughput is change, how those first communities coped with the realization that, contrary to what had been promised them Jesus wasn’t coming soon. It required them to take the long view even while living out the message – Be Prepared.
The first reading’s context is a different case altogether. To appreciate this I invite us to relive this past week of the Presidential election. As you heard this passage from the Book of Wisdom, the first part Betsy read (Wisdom 6:8-11) is not in the lectionary. It is taken from the Inclusive Bible and it is the paragraph just before the section that makes up part 2 that was read by read by Ann (Wisdom 6:12-17).
Reliving this past week what comes to my mind is a phrase one often hears from politicians, “It’s only politics.” That usually means that politicians ought not be held morally accountable for their actions because, well, “It’s only politics.” Well, when it comes to leadership responsibilities in a society – leadership that is given to politicians by the vote of the governed – we all know “It’s NOT only politics.” I spent a few years working in Public Administration in Kentucky and in Wisconsin. Sometimes that phrase is used to give permission to elected leaders to pay attention to potholes and to disregard human need. Other times it is used by spiritual types who wish to remove themselves from the work of social justice so that they may preserve their spirituality of the lofty heights.
I believe we really need to hear this first part of the reading so that the message is clear as to whom and for whom it most directly applies. The Word says, “God will severely cross-examine those who hold authority over people. I speak, then, to you who hold power over the people;” and later, “those who have learned the lessons of justice will be able to defend themselves upon examination.” Now doesn’t that direct a bright spotlight on this past week?
Presidents have power over the people. And when an incumbent President appears to have lost in a similar way as to how he won 4 years previously, you would hope that he would pay attention to God’s cross-examination of how he conducts himself in his leavetaking.
This introduction to the second part of the Wisdom reading provides us with clarity on the appreciation for the application of Wisdom. I love the image of Wisdom “meeting them halfway in all their journeys.” Keeping our focus to the context of elected leaders, I have heard them often declare that politics is the art of compromise. So, is it too much to ask them that halfway on their journeys they join with and meet Wisdom, that they may prove worthy of Her? We cannot let either the crafty or the spiritually misdirected say we ought not apply scripture’s teachings to those who have such secular duties such as authority over the people. For, “The true meaning of Wisdom is the desire to learn, and to be passionate about learning is to love her.” So, beyond this week let’s hope and pray that our desire to learn Wisdom will guide us all, especially elected leaders, in seeking her to bridge the divisions among us.
The second thing I want to say has to do with the Gospel for today. I’ll say first that while I appreciate the lesson being conveyed here, am I the only one who doesn’t like the imagery used to convey it? I didn’t like it when the translation was all about wise and foolish virgins, didn’t like it when that got changed to young maidens, and I really don’t like the imagery of casting people into the darkness over unlit lamps.
Be that as it may, it seems to me that we will all benefit from the message of “Be Prepared.” Be Prepared in this time for the wounds of tearing apart and intentional divisions in America’s body politic to take a long time healing, or even pass for recovery. Be Prepared for a winter of deep darkness, of sickness and of death in a nation that has reached on a daily basis over 100,000 cases of covid and will need to deal with trying to maintain tent hospitals in below freezing temperatures. In this time of Be Prepared I want to applaud the members of our community for putting a start to keeping connected with each other. You will be hearing more about this internal ministry in a few weeks. As I said, the Gospel imagery today ain’t all that great, but the message they hope to bring is definitely to Be Prepared – prepared to reach out to and care for each other in a newly formed Circle of Care.
Mary B will inform us of this internal ministry. Here, though, is the context. In this our 10th Anniversary Year when we had so many wonderful and important events planned, events that meant joint activities together – well, we are separated from doing that. In the darkness that lies ahead both seasonal and virus related we must be intentional in supporting one another. And that’s why I for one welcome this internal ministry that our Circle of Prayer proposes. Look for more details coming your way soon.
A Prayer (JR)
Today we pray for Wisdom, wisdom for ourselves and for our leaders because love of her reveals her present at the doorstep of each one’s home. In this time of national division may healing and humility prevail. We have been led by fear and division; racial injustice and disdain for science have become humiliating hallmarks of our nation throughout the world. So, examine our leaders and ourselves Creator God and send Wisdom’s light. Without her we walk in darkness.
Hear us, guide us, love us and show us the way. Amen.