Jeremiah 1:4-10*Psalm 71:1-6*1 Corinthians 13:1-13 * Luke 4:14-30
As I ponder these readings for this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, I find myself recalling one of the first words I encountered as an undergraduate student of religion: weltanschauung.
Weltanschauung is a German word that often is translated as “worldview” or “world outlook,” but just as frequently is treated as a calque or left untranslated. A Weltanschauung is a comprehensive conception or theory of the world and the place of humanity within it. It is an intellectual construct that provides both a unified method of analysis for and a set of solutions to the problems of existence.
[International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences | 2008 COPYRIGHT 2008 Thomson Gale.]
It was once thought, by thinkers like Immanuel Kant, Renee Descartes, and more recently Whilhelm Dilthy, that with due diligence we could perceive a single, unified world view – an historical, objective and singularly truthful world view. More recently, however, in science, philosophy and religion, the role of the individual observer, the subject, and the influence of one’s culture and language, makes for a variety of world views, or ways of seeing the world we live in and our place in it. As it turns out the Buddha was quite right to observe some six hundred years before Jesus that things are changing – nothing remains the same.
For instance, we now know that every cell in the human body is replaced approximately every seven years. I am not physically the person I was seven years ago, and in fact by now have gone through a number of physical transformations. The fact of change has led some, like Hans Georg Gadamer, to conclude that “there can be no final interpretation of reality because new life-worlds or world pictures will cause future interpreters to see and experience the world differently.” [Ibid] As some might say, circumstances alter cases.
In this age of immediate information overload driven by an insatiable devotion to electronic devices, we find ourselves flooded with a variety of vastly differing world views multiple times per day if not per hour or even per minute. All filtered through “our own” world view, and interpreted from our own particular point of view. This has become particularly important in our interpretation of scripture and religious texts like the Bible, the Quran, the Sutras of the Buddha, the Mahabharata, the Analects of Confucius and the Dao De Jing (Tao). Each of these texts, and hundreds of others, offer a particular weltanschauung that came into existence in particular historical circumstances, regions and cultures and compiled in regional languages.
The texts before us center on a world view that, as Paul says in perhaps his most famous chapter in his letter to the church in Corinth, may be summarized by the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. As the first Christian witness in the New Testament, Paul stands upon a tradition and world view that claims that the Lord God of the Exodus is “our stronghold” and source of our Hope (Psalm 71), and that we know this because it is the Lord God himself who puts “my words in your mouth” of those he calls to announce his emerging world view (Jeremiah 1).
I say emerging since throughout the Bible from beginning to end the world view of the Lord God of the Exodus is always based in Faith, Hope and Charity, but is given new interpretive meanings in the differing historical and cultural circumstances of God’s people. By the way, in High School we had to memorize chapater 13 in the King James English for our English Lit class with Clara King. A number of us Boomers petitioned to be able to use the Revised Standard Version which replaces Charity with “Love.” I have since learned that the Biblical concept of Love really is more like what we call Charity: doing something useful and helpful for others whether or not we even like them. It seems to me it is what Jesus is all about. Besides, it rhymes: Faith, Hope and Charity, abide these three, but the greatest of these is Charity!
So we have Jeremiah, and quite possibly Psalm 71, commissioned to remind the people in Exile not to let go of the Hope that their God will find them a way out. Indeed, they are to sing and pray, “In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free; incline your ear to me and save me.” (Psalm 71) Some six hundred years later, under the military occupation of the Roman Empire, the people still seek deliverance and freedom when Paul writes to Corinth about the necessity to maintain Faith, Hope and Charity in spite of the current crisis – that is, to adopt and maintain a positive world view no matter what the circumstances on the ground might suggest.
Some thirty or forty years after Paul we get Luke’s portrayal of what is often referred to as Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown synagogue in which he radically reinterprets the God inspired words of another prophet of the Exile, Isaiah, to fit the ongoing crisis: God wants to set us prisoners free, give we who are blind new vision, and the cancelation of all debts! Note carefully that when asked how to pray Jesus instructs his followers to forgive debts: and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. (Luke 11) I say radical, for as it dawns on the people just what kind of Faith, Hope and Charity is being demanded of them (“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”), they conspire to hurl him off a nearby cliff, only to have him “pass through the midst of them,” the way Moses and the people passed through (exodos) the sea, the exiles returned to Jerusalem, and Jesus passes through death back to life.
Jeremiah, Psalm 71, I Corinthians and Luke offer an emerging world view that is grounded in Faith, Hope and Charity to withstand the competing world views of exile and military/political oppression. We can safely conclude that those who have lived out of such a world view have made it through to our present day.
I say all of this because I am aware that every day we are being courted by other world views, other weltanschauungs if you will. They come in the guise of political ideologies, scientific and anti-scientific assessments, religious and atheistic pronouncements, and of course the managed world views of Television, Movies and Advertising, to name just a few. Some are positive, many are negative. Most are seductive world views based out of the seven deadly sins: greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, anger, and of course, pride. We are in an election year and weltanschauungs are flying literally left and right!
As Paul asserts in his majestic 13th chapter of First Corinthians, most of these world views will pass away. The world view grounded in Faith, Hope and Charity shall endure. Buyer beware: the trappings of world views competing for our allegiances are indeed seductive and clever. As the Lord says to Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.” There is nothing clever about Faith, Hope or Charity. In any and all historical and cultural circumstances, these three virtues always survive. Amen.