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Today in the Spirit: Proper 8B

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Sometimes, in the three-year lectionary cycle, there is the opportunity for a Stewardship Sunday built right into the schedule of readings. This week is an example of that, though, oddly, it is not the Gospel reading taking the lead. Proper 8B is one of a few instances in the post-Pentecost ordinary season where we can say that the Epistle reading provides the overall theme for the week. 

The assigned Gospel reading from Mark 5:22-43, the accounts of the healings of Jairus’ daughter and the woman suffering from bleeding, is simply the following passage in order in the Gospel of Mark. But with the assignment of 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 as a New Testament reading, the Church jumps ahead in the series from that letter to Paul’s teaching on generosity in giving financially to the needs of the struggling Christians in Judea:

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For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness .

2 Corinthians 8:13-14

Following this lead, the assigned Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy 15:7-11 recalls for us as worshipers the OT law delivered to Moses regarding the treatment of the poor in anticipation of the people of Israel entering the promised land:

Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’.

Deuteronomy 15:11

The appointed Psalm 112, giving background for Paul’s teaching, urges praise for God for his favor given to the righteous person who obeys God, trusting him in all things. In a cascade of lyrics describing the righteous, we will sing,

He has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.

Psalm 112:9, New Coverdale Psalter (BCP 2019)

The Collect assigned for Proper 8B is another in a series of prayers this season for the sovereign God who “sets in order all things both in heaven and earth” to keep his Church doing what is right and good according to his will. The petition to “put away from us all hurtful things” should be understood to mean both being spared trouble altogether and being strengthened to overcome adversity when it comes upon us.   

The Collect

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth: Put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things that are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

You Shall Open Wide Your Hand to Your Brother (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

7 “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. 9 Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. 10 You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’.

Deut. 15:7-11

There is a similar call in the OT reading here and the NT reading from 2 Corinthians for generosity to the poor within the community of the faith. Paul sought to make a collection to help the Christians suffering from poverty in Judea. His plea is for fairness (or equality, 2 Cor. 8:13, NIV) between Christians. In the verses just before our reading in Deuteronomy, we read this: Of a foreigner, you may exact it, but whatever of yours is with your brother your hand shall release (15:3). Missionally, what both Moses and Paul attest to is God’s desire to give a witness in the world to the love of the One God through the faith community taking care of each other, and especially the poor within it.

As Christians, it can be confusing to know just how to deal with poverty in the society around us. Should I always carry dollar bills around me to give away to everyone who approaches us on a street corner or in a parking lot? But how do we know who is really in need? Should we give to everyone who asks? So many people are asking now. The teaching of our Bible readings this week suggests that we bypass those considerations and look first at the state of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Pay attention to who is in need in the local community. Look to the needs of Christians in other parts of the nation or world. There must be no hesitation here: You shall give to [them] freely

Today, in the Spirit, let not the confusion I feel toward helping the poor in society at large cause me to hesitate one second to be as generous as I can within the Church. Lord, let our prompt and generous care for one another in the faith community give witness to the truth of how much you have loved us in our poverty through Jesus Christ.

For the Righteous Will Never Be Moved (Psalm 112)

1 Praise the Lord!

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,

    who greatly delights in his commandments!

2 His offspring will be mighty in the land;

    the generation of the upright will be blessed.

3 Wealth and riches are in his house,

    and his righteousness endures forever.

4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;

    he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.

5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;

    who conducts his affairs with justice.

6 For the righteous will never be moved;

    he will be remembered forever.

7 He is not afraid of bad news;

    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.

8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,

    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.

9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;

    his righteousness endures forever;

    his horn is exalted in honor.

10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;

    he gnashes his teeth and melts away;

    the desire of the wicked will perish!

Note the language alluding to multiple pitfalls laid up against the righteous in this psalm. There is darkness over which light must dawn upon them (4), bad news in the face of which their hearts must remain firm (7), and adversaries of whom they may be afraid (8). Those who fear the LORD here clearly are not coddled by God so as to avoid danger altogether (though that too probably happens more often than we know), but they are preserved by God through the trial and emboldened for later challenges to come.

Devotionally, taking in this song of praise, we must face the natural tendency toward inertia as we move along in life. When we are young, we are willing and even eager to confront danger; in many cases, we must do so to get ahead. As we get older, however, we want to arrive at a comfortable place where the world is smaller, less complicated, and trouble-free. Here’s the rub: as Christians, we find that when we seek to go smaller, God goes for bigger with us now that we are mature in the faith. God himself becomes bigger to us (like Aslan does to Lucy in her second stint in Narnia) and wants bigger for us. 

This is the psalm to encourage in us the notion that God is for us, not against us, and greater, no lesser, in giving mercy as adversity increases. The Puritan divine, Thomas Goodwin, puts it this way: “Where there is but a mention made by way of supposition, or by way of query, whether God will part with or cast off any of his people or no; you shall find that he throws it away with the highest indignation his love is so great.” 

Today, Holy Spirit, having found this psalm, which “throws away” my doubts about your love for me, I see you as a bigger God and will follow you to bigger things you have laid out for me.

Readiness in Desring (2 Corinthians 8:1-15)

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6 Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7 But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

2 Cor. 8:1-15

Paul’s idea of making a collection for the poverty-stricken saints in Jerusalem had been in his heart for some time. He had mentioned it to the Corinthians earlier (see 1 Cor. 16:1-4). However, it was only now, since Titus’ report that the breach between Paul and the Corinthians was being healed, that he could address the matter in more detail (2 Cor. 8:1-9:15). Paul’s concern is less for a large donation amount from Corinth but with the restoration of a readiness in desiring (eager willingness, NIV) to serve the saints outside their own city. He draws out their desire in this text in three ways: the example of the Macedonians (1-5); the example of Christ (9); and the example of the Corinthians’ own prior generosity (11-12).

Devotionally, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our hearts of this increase of eager willingness to supply for the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, locally and globally. We read (or hear) the Scriptures, allowing ourselves to be persuaded by the various appeals made to the readiness to be generous, especially to fellow believers. Our stewardship of resources must be measured out beyond taking care of ourselves. So often, our generosity is directed almost exclusively inward. We content ourselves with keeping up with our tithes, but If we are giving our tithes for the support of our local Church, and our local Church is using that provision to maintain itself, where is the desire for fairness among the saints outside our group?

Today, Holy Spirit, I hear the appeal to the divine commandment in Deuteronomy, to promised blessings in Psalm 112, and to the example in 2 Corinthians, and I surrender to the appeal to be ready to be generous beyond my own interests.  

Do Not Fear Only Believe (Mark 5:22-43)

33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 

Mk. 5:22-43

Mark is building what might be described as a narrative sandwich–the divided account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter like two pieces of bread top and bottom, and the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage like the filling (see also how Mark in particular uses this technique in 3:20-35 and 6:6b-32). But what condiment gives flavor to the sandwich? It is, I believe, our Lord’s interaction with both characters in the middle of the story to build up their faith. In the space of just three verses, he says to the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (34), and to the synagogue ruler, “Do not fear, only believe” (36). Two words of encouragement to two separate individuals, each with their own challenges to move forward in faith, delivered almost simultaneously in the crush of a crowd.

Devotionally, we need to ask ourselves: cannot Jesus, who interacts with these two in that manner, also see me through, despite my faltering belief, to new levels of faith as the going gets hard? He can, beloved. He feels you reaching out to him to “touch the hem of his garment” without drawing attention. He sees your look of disappointment when the report comes that “your child is dead,” and all your hopes are dashed. There, right there, in the middle of the story, we hear our Lord saying to us what he says to so many saints in the Scriptures, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of [your enemies], for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).   

Today, in the Spirit, overhearing Jesus’ encouragement to greater faith given to these two characters in Mark, I will count on his continued encouragement as I walk forward in faith. 

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

June 23, 2024

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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