Proper 20 (September 20, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 11:18-20; Ps. 54; James 3:13-4:8a; Mark 9:30-37
This weekend marks two significant religious holidays in the region. The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, begins Saturday with 10 days set aside to focus on repentance. Muslims will celebrate the end of Ramadan with the Eid Al-Fitr.
We enjoyed hosting guests from Bethlehem this week and heard moving stories about how families survive and support each other under military occupation and the most difficult of circumstances.
Cindy visited the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf (HLID) in Salt, Jordan, where MCC worker Brent Stutzman works on the deaf-blind unit, assisting with classes and after school activities. The unit has 8 boarding students. Each child receives individual teaching and care. This year, a HLID graduate joined the teaching staff on this special unit.
In the region this week:
-The U.N. released a report on the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, charging both Israel and Hamas with serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law — including possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. In an attempt to boost troop morale and to give wars a more “holy” character, rabbis are playing a larger role in Israel’s military – including the recent conflict in Gaza.
-U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell met several times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to urge a freeze on settlements, but no agreement was reached.
-The U.S. military closed its largest prison in Iraq and released or handed over to Iraqi authorities more that 8,000 prisoners.
-Iran’s president announced again that his country does not need nuclear weapons, but that it plans to continue its nuclear energy program.
In a separate speech during Al Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Iran, Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust was a pretext for the creation of the Israeli state. Opposition groups used the speech as an occasion to again protest the June 12 election results.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about trusting God to deal with our enemies — those who threaten us and make life difficult for us.
In the Old Testament reading, the people want to destroy Jeremiah because he speaks God’s words of judgment to them. “Let us cut him off from the land of the living,” they chant, “so that his name will no longer be remembered!” (Jer. 11:19). Rather than take matters into his own hands, Jeremiah prays to God, “Let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause” (v.20).
When Saul pursues David to kill him, David confidently responds: “But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will repay my enemies for their evil” (Ps. 54:4-5).
In the Epistle reading, James decries selfish ambition (3:14, 17) and engaging in disputes and conflicts (4:2). Instead, he urges gentleness (3:13), a willingness to yield (3:17) and submitting to God (4:7). “God opposes the proud,” James quotes, “but gives grace to the humble” (4:6).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus demonstrates his servant leadership. Rather than taking up arms, he is ready to suffer and die because he trusts that God will restore his life (Mark 9:31). In the same spirit, he discourages his disciples from attempts at self-promotion and self-importance. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” Jesus challenges them (v.34).
Trusting God to deal with one’s enemies may work on a personal level, but is it possible for nations? Aren’t nations to rely on powerful militaries for their protection? While governing authorities have a role in maintaining order, the biblical message seems clear: Neither nations nor individuals are to trust in their own power for their defense. God does not have double standards.