The Common Good
June 2009

Be Still and Know

by Michaela Bruzzese | June 2009

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for June.

The Easter season concludes with the celebration of one of Christianity’s most beautiful mysteries, the Trinity. The weeks that follow will continue to reveal the mystery of the God who is one, yet three, and we celebrate all the ways God invites us to relationship—as loving parent, incarnate Son, and renewing Spirit.

God incarnate shares the good news: The last are first, the smallest shall blossom into the greatest of trees, the shamed and suffering shall receive healing and a place in God’s reign. Death is not victorious. And when the demands of discipleship challenge us to move out of our comfort zones, when our fear is so great that we begin to fear fear itself, Jesus says, “Quiet! Be still.” Whether we confront economic uncertainty, personal upheaval, or social instability, God reminds us that the one who orders chaos is. Jesus’ impatient question to the disciples—“Have you still no faith?”—reminds us that giving in to fear reveals a lack of faith in God, and comes dangerously close to idolatry.

Paul reminds us that Jesus’ physical presence, however, is not necessary for the work of the kingdom to continue. Through the presence of God as Spirit, we too have the opportunity to be adopted into God’s grace. Pedigree, codes of honor, and holiness do not matter anymore. We can all freely respond to God’s call as Isaiah did: “Here am I; send me!”

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

June 7
Choosing to be Born Again
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

On this Trinity Sunday, we are presented with images of God as adoptive parent, incarnate Son and savior, and life-giving Spirit. In each manifestation, the choice of whether and how to relate to the triune God is ours.

The one who creates also makes worthy, removing all impediments to Isaiah’s commissioning by cleansing him with fire. And yet God still asks, “Whom shall I send?” The gift of free will is perhaps the defining aspect of our relationship with God; the God who created us also grants us the freedom to participate in God’s plan—or not.

Jesus’ conversation with Nico-demus reveals the implications of our choice to believe in the One who walked among us “in order that the world might be saved through him.” Being saved means more than professing Jesus as Lord and Savior; indeed, Jesus assures us that we must change our vantage point completely. First, he insists that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3), then adds that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Not only are we invited to see the new reign—the one where the last are first and the least are greatest—we are then invited to enter it, which requires both our consent (the waters of baptism) and God’s grace (the Holy Spirit).

Which brings us back to the all-important issue of choice. Jesus wants Nicodemus, and us, to understand exactly what we are getting into—our yes cannot be superficial, for we must not only choose to see things from God’s perspective, we must agree to make God’s perspective our own. Paul, however, is well qualified to remind us that our commitment to God is also God’s commitment to us; with God as loving parent, we are both “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

June 14
By Faith, Not Sight
1 Samuel 15:34 - 16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Every fourth generation, the monarch butterfly returns to ancestral breeding grounds in Mexico from as far away as Canada. The butterflies travel more than 2,000 miles to a place they have never seen, arriving by the millions. Scientists don’t understand how or why it happens; they are awed by the mystery, which seems the most appropriate response. Neither do the Tarasco people of Angangueo, where the butterflies arrive. They simply receive them as the spirits of their ancestors, grateful for the visit.

Jesus asks the same of us as we behold the kingdom of God. What is it like? Although Jesus talks about the kingdom in tangible terms, he could not fully explain it because the kingdom is meant to be lived more than understood. Standing in awe before great mysteries—and more important, entering into and living them—is a crucial component of our faith; as Paul says to the Corinthians, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” And so we learn about the kingdom in parables and mysteries—the mystery of the seed that somehow grows in the quiet and dark, or the mighty mustard plant emerging from the tiniest of seeds.

As observed in 1 Samuel, God’s perspective differs from the world’s, and so must ours: “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Paul concurs, explaining that not only does Jesus’ death and resurrection change our viewpoint forever—“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view”—it also means that we (like the caterpillar) get a second chance: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

Open hearts in the presence of mystery, and the willingness to be made anew, are all Jesus asks. Even the tiniest seed of faith in the mystery will suffice. God will make great and mighty things of it.

June 21
Still No Faith?
1 Samuel 17:1, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

The description of David’s battle with Goliath is yet another parable of God’s reign, this time demonstrating that great faith is always more important than greatness. David’s victory is inevitable because his faith in the God of Israel is absolute and unshakeable: “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). He mocks Goliath and his reliance on mere weapons: “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Hosts” (1 Samuel 17:45).

David’s faith stands in stark contrast to that of the disciples, who become terrified and anchorless in the face of a storm. For author Megan McKenna, the storm that overwhelms the disciples also represents “the storm and violence in society, in religious groups, in our families, and in our countries where the news of Jesus is not received as good news,” she writes in On Your Mark. Jesus’ response, described by Mark as a “rebuke” of the sea, echoes his command to unclean spirits, as well as passages in the Hebrew Testament in which God commands chaotic waters. For McKenna, Jesus’ command to the sea is also his command to us: “Peace! Be Still!” (Mark 4:39).

After calming the storm, Jesus’ question for the disciples (and us) is no less demanding: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Unlike David, who trusted without hesitation in God’s word, the disciples are overcome by chaos and take refuge in fear instead of faith. Jesus is frustrated because their fear reveals that their trust does not reside in God, and therefore borders on idolatry. Thus, when the false gods fail us, we and the disciples would do well to remember, like David, that our confession of faith is also a confession that there is no God but God: “Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human” (Psalm 9:20).

June 28
Only Believe
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Fear and faith reappear in the account of the healing of a bleeding woman and a young girl, and Mark is unsubtle in his insistence that God loves the least of these as much as the greatest. Ched Myers writes in Binding the Strong Man that the two women are “archetypal opposites in terms of economic status and honor.” The bleeding woman is without social, religious, or economic status; she is unnamed in the account and even the disciples urge Jesus not to worry about the needs of the crowd—presumably so that he can attend to Jairus’ daughter more quickly. The 12-year-old child is the opposite of the woman; she is entering her child-bearing years and thus her most valuable status as a woman in a society dominated by honor codes. She has everything the bleeding woman doesn’t—a man to advocate for her, wealth, status, position, and societal value.

And yet Jesus does stop. He cares who had the courage, and faith, to violate purity codes and touch him. Not only does he not rebuke the woman, he calls her “daughter” and commends her great faith. In doing so, Myers observes that “by the story’s conclusion, she herself has become the ‘daughter’ at the center of the story.”

But Jesus also rejects the assumption that if there is a “winner” there must also be a loser. In this kingdom, we are all adopted children. God does not cure the poor at the expense of the rich, or vice versa. Viewing the situation from God’s perspective, not theirs, Jesus challenges the mourners: “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” In this kingdom, we are all loved, we all get a second chance at life, and no one has to lose. The only thing standing in the way of our ability to enter this new reign is our choice, and our ability to answer Jesus’ challenge: “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36)

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