Incorruptible purses

11 August 2013
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 14C (RCL)
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20
Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah dives right in to his prophecy against the people. In the verses we leave out, speaking for God, the prophet laments that God’s children don’t recognize their parent. But at least, says the prophets, God has not left us quite as desolate as Sodom. Jerusalem still exists like a hut in a vineyard. And then come the verses we have in our reading. Interestingly, the sins of Sodom, to which the prophet compares the sins of Jerusalem, have more to do with injustice, with a failure to redress the wrongs done to the widow and orphan, than with the sins we usually associate with Sodom. All of our religious worship of God is worthless, and even repulsive, without that justice. God complains of the stench of the burnt offerings offered without justice, but near the end of the passage, says that if we will straighten things out, “if you are willing and obey, you shall enjoy the good things of the land.” The things we are burning off to God shall be ours to enjoy instead. That says something about church budgets.

The passage we read from Luke begins in the middle. The phrase, “Fear not, little flock,” really belongs to the pericope before it. Immediately after the story of the rich fool and his bigger barn, Jesus instructs us not to worry about what we will eat, or wear. God takes care of the ravens, and the flowers of the field are dressed better than Solomon. We, instead, should seek the realm of God, and these things will be ours as well. Don’t worry, Jesus says, it is God’s good pleasure to give you the realm. That’s where the exhortation to sell possessions and give alms comes in. That exhortation seems to match the prophet’s words in Isaiah. If we get our priorities straight, we will enjoy the good things of life. The rich fool wanted to horde as his own the grain that would feed the community (note the parallel to Joseph and Pharaoh, who built store cities, and eventually enslaved all of Egypt). The trenchant question was, “And then, whose will these things be?” If we sell possessions and give alms, we engage in a different form of exchange. We build up a different kind of treasure.

What is striking in the Gospel passage is that the master of the slaves will gird himself and wait on his slaves when he returns from the wedding banquet. Again, the good things we ascribe to God will be ours to enjoy if we share them with those who cannot pay us back.

Luke uses an image of a meal again for what the kingdom will be like. It is like those slaves who stand ready to serve the master when he returns, and instead, he will serve them at a meal. Are we to sell everything? Have nothing? Practically, of course, that won’t work. But we can account our worth differently than we do. We are worth what we have out there in circulation in the community; the favors done, the gifts given. Just like the unjust steward who forgave his master’s debtors, we build up “capital” among those who will take us in when it is our turn. Any gift we give to God without the calculus of what we get out of it, God gives back to us, among the widows and orphans.

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