Torah                       Joshua 24:14–18

Writing                    Romans 3:19–26

Prophet                     Isaiah 58

Gospel                      Luke 7:36–50

As the season begins, we transition from via positiva to via negativa. We begin a time of letting go, a season of making choices.

We begin with Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel and ask ourselves, “can we let go of our old gods and choose God?” Indeed, in many ways Joshua’s question was given new voice by Meister Eckhart when he said, “God does not ask anything else of you except that you let yourself go and let God be God in you.”[1] This is what it is to choose God.

The prophet Isaiah confronts us in a similar way. Isaiah 58 (found in the Revised Common Lectionary as an optional first reading for this day) challenges us to confess with integrity. Like other prophets, the one generally known as second Isaiah issues a call for a practical fast: “Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear…” (Isaiah 58:6b–7a, TEV). This awareness of sin is reiterated in Romans 3:23: “Everyone has sinned; everyone falls short of the glory of God” (Inclusive Bible). Yet, while fall/redemption theologians would stop there – and many fundamentalist Christians do, especially during Lent – we read the next part: “Yet everyone has also been undeservedly justified by the gift of God” (verse 24).

The sacrificial imagery in this passage has led to an emphasis on Jesus as sacrificial lamb of God without examining the context of the Temple cult and the way in which those who were steeped in that tradition might have more readily understood this death. Marcus Borg addresses this beautifully in The Heart of Christianity:

The metaphor of sacrifice…subverted the sacrificial system. It meant: God in Jesus has already provided the sacrifice and has thus taken care of whatever you think separates you from God; you have access to God apart from the temple and its system of sacrifice. It is a metaphor of radical grace, of amazing grace.

Thus “Jesus died for our sins” was originally a subversive metaphor, not a literal description of either God’s purpose or Jesus’ vocation. It was a metaphorical proclamation of radical grace; and properly understood, it still is.[2]

Such an understanding is crucial so as not to fall into a more classical trap of understanding this in terms of “I am so bad God had no choice but to kill Jesus.” This implication that God is somehow tied by rules of God’s own making is naïve at best. Furthermore, God has repeatedly rejected the sacrificial cult according to the prophets (see Isaiah 1:11–14, Hosea 6:6, and Amos 5:1–24, to name only a few examples). To suggest that our behavior forces God to act in a certain way implies that we are more powerful than God, a notion that is not supported in scripture.[3]

The gospel reading is the story of the woman anointing Jesus while he is at the home of Simon the Pharisee – a profound story of pouring out, and awareness of forgiveness. Beyond this, it is a reminder that the community of Jesus is of the proverbial “lowest of the low,” the ones who are seen at the edges of society. In this story Jesus asserts that all are welcome.

Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza suggests that this was seen as a baptismal story in the early church, and further sees it as affirmation that “the notion of atoning sacrifice does not express the Jesus movement’s understanding and experience of God but is a later interpretation of the violent death of Jesus in cultic terms. The God of Jesus is not a God who demands atonement…”[4] This helps support a Creation Spirituality reading of Romans 3:19–26.

In the context of God’s grace and the challenge to do justice, we can move into a time of pouring out all that we are and have been, and confront the via negativa.

[1] Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, (Santa Fe: Bear and Co., 1982), p. 52.

[2] Borg, Heart of Christianity, p. 95.

[3] Nor anywhere else, I should dare to think!

[4] Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: a Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, (New York: Crossroad, 1985), p. 130.

© Donald Schmidt “Taken from Emerging Word: a Creational Spirituality Lectionary by Donald Schmidt. Copies are available from him.”

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