25 July 2016
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 12C (RCL)
We continue with the long narrative arc in our Old Testament lessons of the work of the prophets in Israel. Hosea is remarkable for his use of the metaphor of marriage for the covenant between God and the people. God tells Hosea to take a prostitute for a wife. This is probably a cult prostitute associated with the worship of Baal. Baal is a loan word in Hebrew which simply meant husband. Baal was one of the Canaanite gods of fertility. The cult of Baal was meant to secure the fertility of the land, and of flocks, and of the community. There would be a certain amount of irony in using Hosea’s marriage to Gomer as a metaphor for the relationship between God and the people. A contrast is being drawn between a strictly cultic observance and the ethical demands of the covenant of God. Later in the book, Hosea will speak of God’s fidelity despite the people’s infidelity, and his own marriage will again serve as a metaphor.
The reading from Luke’s Gospel is a direct continuation of the story of Martha and Mary. As such it serves to help answer the question of what is the one needful thing. As the passage unfolds, it indicates the Luke understands holy spirit to be the one thing needed.
A disciple asks Jesus to teach them to pray. Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer is short and to the point. It is God’s name that we pray should be holy. It is God’s kingdom we pray should come. We pray for bread for today only. We ask forgiveness of our sins as we forgive those who are in debt to us. And we ask not to be brought to the test. Recalling the sending of the seventy, Jesus instructed them not to carry a bag for extra food, or a purse for money. They were to be absolutely dependent on the charity of those who welcomed them. They were to heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom.
As an illustration of the petition for daily bread, Jesus tells the story of someone who receives a guest off the road (the Way, as the community was called). He has nothing to set before his guest, and so has already been shamed with regard to the rules of hospitality. So he goes to his neighbor to borrow three loaves of bread. The neighbor refuses to help, but Jesus says that even if he won’t help because he is his friend, he will help because of his friend’s shamelessness (persistence is a mistranslation).
The community modeled by the seventy turns the expectations of honor and shame upside down. They are to be shameless in asking for help. A refusal to help will bring shame on the one who refuses to help. And then, Jesus says that if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will God give us holy spirit when we ask. Holy spirit is what characterizes the community of the kingdom. It is a spirit of mutual vulnerability and a willingness to ask for help.
Too often, we are like the man in the house with the door locked. We have what we need, and don’t want to be bothered with paying attention to others. It is the shamelessness of those who entreat us that will move us out of our complacency.