22 July 2012/Proper 11B – Jeremiah 23:1-6/Psalm 23/Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School, Stevenson, Maryland
I Shall Fear No Evil
Friday, July 19, 2012 was another one of those mornings where we wake up only to discover that while most of us were sound asleep yet another episode of violent evil had claimed the lives of 12 persons, injured 58 others at a midnight screening of the latest episode in the Batman movie franchise. The movie’s director called it “unbearably savage.” Through Facebook I quickly made contact with friends in the vicinity of Aurora, CO, to make sure all were safe.
I have been here all too recently as a lone shooter claimed the lives of my two closest colleagues in ministry on May 3. Both shooters have been described as deranged, mentally ill, obviously disturbed, etc. Then come the predictable calls for greater gun control, followed immediately by calls for more lenient concealed carry laws. As I drive around town doing errands, even sports radio hosts in Baltimore, two of whom are former policemen themselves, advanced the idea that if more people in the theatre had had handguns the rampage could have been stopped. Never mind that the shooter was covered head-to-foot in military grade body-armor, and that once people started shooting back they might have mistakenly deduced that there was more than one shooter and begun shooting one another with what we euphemistically call “friendly fire.”
Then come our texts for Sunday morning – “Texts that linger, Words that explode,” to characterize them as Walter Brueggeman does in his book of the same name [Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2000]. “Friendly fire”… “Words that explode”… and were I to make a list of possible causes for the violence in our culture we might call that a list of “bullet” points. The violence has even subsumed our rhetoric, our very language, our most basic modes of communication and thought.
The prophet, Jeremiah, envisions a time future when God clears out all the current shepherds (read kings, dictators, politicians, religious authorities, experts and leaders of all kinds) and installs a “righteous branch” of David, a new king, a wise king who shall execute (another violent term) justice and righteousness. That is, God will provide a new shepherd who will set about building up a new world, a new society, a new culture of justice for all – not for some, not for many, not for a few, but for all.
The Psalmist, in what is arguably the most familiar and liturgically most used Psalm, 23, states “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me…” O Lord, there are so many out there who trouble me! When I hear of such violence, even when I see someone like Gabby Giffords making a courageous recovery, I am reminded of those who were with her who had no chance for recovery because of those who trouble me. May I have the strength to come to your table, Lord, rather than run away and hide from it all.
Then in Mark’s gospel, chapter 6, what do we find? Rather than people running away from it all, hiding from the severe oppression of the Roman Empire, staying away from those who, like Jesus, challenge the shepherds, challenge the authorities, challenge the very Emperor and his cronies and stooges, we find people running as fast as they can to the epicenter of the challenge.
When the people, the poor, the sick, the halt and the lame, caught even just a glimpse of Jesus and his entourage, “they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.” Despite the mounting opposition from the official “shepherds” to Jesus and his mission, desperate people of all kinds could not run fast enough to simply be in his presence. They begged him, we are told, to be allowed to touch the hem of his cloak: “and all who touched it were healed.”
Healed: healed of all that separated them out from the rest of society. Restored might be a better word here: restored to life in and with the community of those who routinely, day after day, shunned them, shut them out, rendered them invisible. We do that today. This violence we see is not about deranged and mentally ill persons, but about a society that is rapidly going bankrupt – a society that does not look after all its people – a society that is no longer about the common good. It is all too easy to shut various classes of persons out of our lives and minds. This in a culture that makes extravagant claims of being Christian, but seems blind to the kind of society Jesus was out to build up in the name of God.
Allow these texts from Jeremiah, Psalm 23 and Mark linger with us. Allow the words to explode in our imaginations. Allow these texts, these prophetic words to have their way with us, rather than our usual tactics of trying to have our way with these words. Rather than trying to control the meaning of the Biblical text to suit our way of thinking, allow them to lead us to a new place.
Why? This morning I awoke, Saturday, July 21, to the following words in my email queue:
The Option for the Poor
Gustavo Gutierrez- The Power of the Poor in History
If I define my neighbor as the one I must go out to look for, on the highways and byways, in the factories and slums, on the farms and in the mines, then my world changes. This is what is happening with the "option for the poor," for in the gospel it is the poor person who is the neighbor par excellence....
But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent.
The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity.
Hence the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.
We are mistaken if we think for a moment that Gutierrez, that seminal Peruvian Dominican priest and theologian, is talking about people other than ourselves. The meaning of events like those that take occur in places like Aurora, CO and my office is to alert us to our societal poverty. As Solomon Burke puts it in one of his last songs, “It's a simple truth we all need, just to hear and to see. None of us are free, if one of us is chained. None of us are free.” [words: Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil]
To paraphrase Gutierrez, the poverty of us all, the poverty of our culture, the poverty of our society, is not simply a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go out and build a different social order. Anyone who thinks for a moment that it will be easy need only reflect on the lives of people like Jeremiah, Jesus, Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day. Like those courageous Galileans of the first century, we need to run after Jesus as fast as we can to join with him in the building of a new social order in which one need not fear going to the movies – a social order in which we can truly say, “I shall fear no evil, for thy rod and they staff they comfort me.” Amen.