A reflection based on readings from “Beyond the lectionary:”
With what do we measure?
An easier question to answer might be “with what don’t we measure?” for, from an early age, we begin to learn the language of comparison. Our parents applaud enthusiastically when we manage to place the triangle, the circle, the square into the “correct” opening; stack rings in order of greatest to smallest, or perfectly identify the colour of different items presented to us.
Our teachers add to our limited recognition of numbers when we begin the formal schooling process, a vast array of “measurement” means from dollars and cents to metres and litres to ratio and proportions to angles and planes which we can compare and convert.
As part of our critical thinking skills and verbal performance, we excel when we can correctly identify the “odd one out” or circle “the one that does not belong’. And we fast discover that those terms can be applied as criteria in our social relationships too.
The older we get, the more proficient we become at measuring, sorting, classifying – and the more tools we are given to do so: race, gender, nationality, language, socioeconomic status, highest level of education, and so on.
Anything, really, can be used to measure – from whether you’re a cat lover or a dog person, to how many drinks it takes for you to start behaving badly, to whether you wear weird socks underneath your relatively normal looking slacks. And it all means something! as we take our measurements and sort, classify, and compare in an effort to figure out where we fit in the world around us.
No wonder it is such a struggle when we enter into the Christian life to learn a new language, a new way of looking at others, that is not based on measuring whether people are worthy or welcome but on offering “how best can I be a brother, a sister, a servant to you?”
Each of our texts today offer us a new word, a new way of measuring, based not on classifying and comparing but on transforming outsiders to insiders, strangers to family, darkness to light.
In our Old Testament reading, King Solomon – the son of David and writer of many of the wisdom sayings in Scripture – is placed in the difficult position of rendering judgment in a case where there are no witnesses; only the words of one distraught mother against another’s as each longs for a living baby over the dead one.
The means by which he reaches a decision seems quite cruel, and even illogical, at first: he orders a servant to get a sword and cut the live baby in half so each woman can get a piece. But the real mother reveals herself by her response. While the woman with no true bond is happy with his solution, the child’s mother would rather give him up entirely than see him harmed in any way.
Love is the measure. Love is what Solomon was looking for as he applied his God-given wisdom to make the right decision. And not just any kind of love, but the sacrificial sort that would see a mother giving up a lifetime with her child just to know that he still breathed; that, indeed, Christ Jesus would embody as he laid down his life for his friends, for his persecutors, for the whole, wide world, for you and for me.
Is it the same with us? Do we display to strangers, to newcomers, to those with whom we would not previously have imagined associating a love which welcomes, which protects, which serves – often at great cost?
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a difficult and divisive congregation, we discover that one of their ongoing arguments resulted from the very human desire to possess what was seen as the greatest of all spiritual gifts – the supernatural capacity to speak in angel tongues, in different languages – and so gain authority and status within the life of the community.
This is an example of measurement at it’s worst where a person’s worth or value to the church was rated according to the gifts that they could offer, but Paul puts an end to it when he says, “if you want to have a spiritual gift, then seek most of all those gifts that will build up the body; that will help the church grow stronger.”
Growth is the measure that Paul offers as an antidote to the poisons of power, of pride, of envy that were so rampant in this congregation. He warns that the desire for and discernment of our individual gifting and talents should not be for our own advancement or exaltation or – for that matter – hoarding, but for the growth, the strengthening, the knitting together of the body and the drawing nearer of God’s kingdom. Otherwise we are as useless as untuned instruments for leading worship or muted trumpets for signalling an approaching battle.
Is it the same with us? Or do we use our God-given gifts to build another up; to grow together in faith, in love, in understanding?
Finally, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tackles the crowd at the Feast of Booths about their hypocrisy; their double standards. It must have been a difficult time – dealing with his brothers’ disbelief in his divine identity and authority, with the crowd who has questioning whether he was for real or simply leading the people astray, and with the increased, hidden hatred of the priests and Pharisees who wanted to get rid of this healer, this teacher who was upsetting the status quo.
One of their accusations against him was that he had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of holding him to the law of the Sabbath (that no work should be done) while happily circumcising a baby boy on a Sabbath day themselves.
While the religious leaders sought to keep up appearances of piety and obedience, Jesus acted according to what was right. Justice was his measure: ensuring that the vulnerable, the diseased, the accused, the outcast, the prisoner knew the power and the presence of God in their lives. Judged unworthy and unimportant by those who measured by the way things look, they are the very ones to whom the Messiah came.
Is it the same with us? Do we value justice for those who are hurting, for those who are searching, for those that society seldom even looks at more than the comfort of our religious rituals and routines?
Love. Growth. Justice.
Three simple words. Three powerful ways of measuring – not how others fit in to our community of faith – but how wholly and how vividly we are portraying the face, the heart, the mystery of God as we go about our daily lives.
As those who heard King Solomon’s decisions respected his wisdom and gave glory to God, may those who encounter through our words, our actions, and our priorities a different way of measuring based on offering rather than judging do likewise.