16th Sunday after Pentecost (September 16, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 50:4-9; Ps. 116:1-9; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38
The new MCC SALT volunteers finished their Arabic language study in Amman this week. Cindy helped them settle into their new settings. William Stell will be living in Salt and working at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf. Kristy Guertin will be a teacher assistant at the Arab Episcopal School in Irbid.
Muslims across the region have reacted angrily to an anti-Islam movie allegedly produced by a Coptic Christian in the United States. The low-budget movie portrays the prophet Mohammad in a compromising way. The offensive movie tapped into growing anti-American sentiment and demonstrators protested at U.S. embassies across the region, including Amman and Cairo.
In Libya, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed when the embassy was stormed. It is not yet clear whether the action was part of the demonstrations sweeping the region or if the perpetrators simply took advantage of the chaotic conditions.
Stevens was the former Iran desk officer at the U.S. State Department and then served as a staffer to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) before his international assignment in Libya. He was a strong supporter of MCC’s people-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Iran.
There are now more than 200,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, with more than 30,000 at the Za’atari refugee camp outside Mafraq. The first wedding was held in the camp this week, with a couple from the southern Syrian town of Daraa marrying in a non-traditional ceremony.
While political tensions with Iran continue to grow, MCC — through the Iranian Red Crescent Society — is providing assistance to families affected by the recent earthquakes in northwestern Iran’s Azerbaijan province. In addition to cash for local purchase of tents and sleeping bags, a shipment of blankets will be sent this coming week.
The Common Lectionary readings focus on the power of teachers to influence others for good or for bad.
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,” writes Isaiah, “that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (Is. 50:4a) Isaiah says the secret to being a good teacher is “to listen as those who are taught.” (v.4b) Isaiah’s ears are daily opened to God’s call; he is not rebellious (v.5). He endures ridicule because he trusts God to vindicate him (vv. 6-9).
Likewise the psalmist walks “before the Lord” (Ps. 116:9), trusting God to protect and deliver him even when he suffers “distress and anguish” (vv. 1-8).
“Not many of you should become teachers,” warns the Apostle James, “for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1). James describes how difficult it is to control the tongue. While the tongue can be used to bless God (v.10), James says it also “boasts of great exploits” (v.5), is “a world of iniquity” (v.6), a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v.8) and is used to curse others (v.10).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples a difficult truth that they are not ready to hear. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders . . . and be killed” (Mark 8:31). Furthermore, Jesus tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (v.34)
This week we have witnessed the power of words. A movie with a message denigrating an esteemed religious leader has incited crowds across the Middle East.
Not many should become teachers. Teachers are judged with greater strictness as their words and examples shape the behaviors of their students, for good or ill. When teachers spout hate-filled words, denigrate other faiths, belittle other cultures or articulate bad theology they help shape that attitudes that can lead to violence.
But teaching can also be an honorable calling. It offers great opportunities – to encourage the weary, to speak difficult words about divine truths, to bless others and to model a trusting relationship with God.