Monday, February 25, 2013

God's People Grow Up

(Reflection on readings in the Episcopal Church's Daily Lectionary for this date:  Psalm 58, Jeremiah 1:11-19, Romans 1:1-15, and John 4:27-42.  This was composed for a booklet sponsored by The Pilgrimage at St. James', St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, Georgia.)

Romans 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and barbarians.

A lawyer confessed, "I still think of God the way I did when I was 10." At 40, he had a mature understanding of family, law, and country; but it took a few weeks of our class in EfM (Education for Ministry) for his faith to grow up, too.  

In today's readings, spanning 1000 years of history, we see God's people outgrowing their adolescent view of “enemies.”  First, the Psalmist prays for his enemies to "dissolve ... like snails in slime" (Psalms 58:9).  Later, Jeremiah meets Jerusalem’s enemies face to face at the gate, to pronounce their doom. Then Jesus not only faces the despised Samaritans, but welcomes them, dismaying his disciples. Finally, Paul explains to indignant members of the church that he is "obligated" to "barbarians" as well as to them.  

From "slime" to "obligees" is a huge change in attitude towards outsiders. Was it God who grew more accepting, or did God's people need time to accept that God loves all of His creation?  Then, in the 2000 years since Biblical times, has God continued to spur our growth?   I think history answers that question: When Paul wrote, women were property, slavery was common, and power was both inherited and arbitrary.  So much has changed in ways that even Paul did not anticipate.  

I can't speak for anyone else, but, through the Episcopal Church, my understanding of God in the world has changed -- I would say "deepened" and "grown" -- in ways that I wouldn't have approved when I joined thirty years ago.  Change came partly through study, but more through interaction with wise and gentle parishioners, lay and ordained.  I am still learning to open my mind and heart to people not like me, as we are obliged to do.

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