Proper 7 (June 22, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Jer. 20:7-13; Ps. 69:7-18; Rom. 6:1b-11; Matt. 10:24-39
The big news in the region this week is that Hamas and Israel announced a six-month ceasefire, which began at 6 a.m., June 19, after last-minute attacks by both sides.
Under terms of the ceasefire, Hamas will stop firing missiles into Israel and Israel will stop its military incursions into Gaza and gradually ease its economic blockade. Each day that the fragile ceasefire holds gives greater confidence that peace is possible. Perhaps more significant than the deal itself, is the fact that Hamas and Israel are talking. Since Hamas was elected in 2006, Israel, the United States and a host of Western governments have refused to recognize it as the legitimate Palestinian government.
Ironically, as Israel and Hamas were talking peace, the U.S. House of Representatives voted for another $162 billion to execute the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through mid-2009.
And while Israel was negotiating with Hamas, it also was conducting large-scale military operations widely thought to be a rehearsal for an attack on Iranian nuclear sites. Israel, which has some 200 nuclear weapons of its own, fears that Iran is also trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes. Either Israeli or U.S. attacks on Iran would have devastating regional and global consequences.
There was other sobering news in the region as well. In a primarily Shia Muslim section of Baghdad, a car bomb killed more than 60 Iraqis and injured scores more. Some reports blamed Al Qaeda – a Sunni group – but the U.S. military says the attacks were carried out by an extremist Shia group that was trying to incite Shia violence against Sunnis. While, overall, there have been some security improvements in Iraq in recent months, this attack is a poignant reminder of the frail state of affairs in Iraq.
Finally, WorldPublicOpinion.org released an alarming global survey this week that reveals just how bad the “official” U.S. image is in this region. Only four percent of Jordanians and three percent of Palestinians have confidence in U.S. President George W. Bush to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”
The Common Lectionary texts this week remind us that life is difficult and people of faith should expect opposition.
Jeremiah’s message that judgment is coming makes him unpopular with the leaders of his day. He has become a laughingstock. Everyone mocks him and waits for him to stumble (Jer. 20:7, 10). Jeremiah laments that God has given him a difficult message to deliver and wishes that he could simply be silent. But he but feels compelled to speak (v.9). In the end, Jeremiah commits his cause to God and trusts God to deliver “the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers” (vv. 12-13).
David is also the subject of reproach, shame, estrangement, insult and gossip because of his faith (Ps. 69:7-12). He is distressed and pleads for God to answer, rescue, deliver, turn to, draw near and redeem him (vv. 13-18). And yet, in his distress, David affirms that God’s steadfast love is good (v.16) and trusts that God will set him free (v.18).
In the Epistle reading, Paul speaks of being buried with Christ (v.4) and united with Christ in a death like his (v. 5). But this close identification with Christ’s suffering also means being raised with Christ (v.4a), walking in newness of life (v.4b) and no longer be subject to the dominion of death (v. 9).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns his disciples to expect opposition – just as he has (Matt. 10:24-25). But they should not fear those who can only kill the body but not destroy the soul (v.28). He reminds them that they are of great value in God’s sight. And that their love for God must take priority over any other allegiance – even to family (vv.32-38). Finally, Jesus offers this challenge: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (v.39).
In the midst of the tenuous state of world affairs, how easy it is to wish that our faith could be had without cost. But faith is never easy. It requires us to speak unpopular truth to the powers, as did Jeremiah. It demands that we trust God in the face of opposition, as David did. It calls us to identify with Christ’s suffering to the point of death — so that we can also experience the power of his resurrection. And it dares us to face our fears and lose our life for Christ’s sake — so that we may find it. May God inspire such faith in our lives.