Upside down

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (January 30, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Micah 6:1-8; Ps. 15; I Cor. 1:18-31; Matt. 5:1-12

It has been an extraordinary week in the region as ordinary citizens have taken to the streets by the tens of thousands in Egypt to protest poor economic conditions and to call for the ouster of Egypt’s long-term President Hosni Mubarak. By some reports, more than 100 Egyptians have been killed during clashes with police.

Street protests in Egypt (EPA photo from Al Jazeera English website)

Smaller protests have taken place in Amman and other cities across the region, as a broad cross-section of demonstrators have challenged governments who, for too long, have been unresponsive to basic human needs. Apart from the weekly protests in Amman, things feel pretty normal and the winter rains have finally arrived.

The Common Lectionary readings offer a central truth: Our relationship with God cannot be divorced from the quality of our relationships with one another.

In the Old Testament reading, the people ask the prophet Micah whether they can offer extravagant sacrifices to God to make up for their violence and injustice toward one another. Micah calls instead for changed behaviors. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

The psalmist writes that those who are able to dwell in God’s presence are those who walk blamelessly (Ps. 15:2a), do what is right (v.2b), speak the truth (v. 2c), do not slander (v.3a), do no evil to their friends nor take up reproach against their neighbors (v. 3b), do not lend money at interest (v. 5a), and do not take a bribe against the innocent (v. 5b).

In the Epistle reading, Paul reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus as upside down nature of God’s work in the world. “But God chose what is foolish … to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are…” (I Cor. 1:17-28)

Similarly, in the Gospel reading Jesus promises that it is the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3), those who mourn (v. 4), the meek (v. 5), those who hunger and thirst for justice (v. 6), the merciful (v. 7), the pure in heart (v. 8), the peacemakers (v. 9) and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (v. 10), who will receive God’s blessing.

What we are witnessing in the region is a remarkable reversal of roles –authoritarian leaders are being shamed by ordinary people who are no longer afraid; those who hunger and thirst for justice are sensing that their time is near.

In short, things feel upside down – just as they should in God’s kingdom!

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