I shred this reflection at church today based on these readings. It may have been too long but it represents about to weeks of agonisingly trying to reduce my complicated thoughts on this to a manageable size (and then trust others to fill in the blanks as well or better than I could).
What does it mean that the Spirit scrutinises even the depths of God?
I came to these readings with a feeling of suspicion toward their legalistic tone: long gone are the days when I could view any text as innocent. Everything that is written serves someone’s interests. I’ll leave aside the question of whose interests scripture might serve as that is a big question and one we probably wouldn’t all agree on, but the lectionary also is a text- the juxtaposition of particular readings is not inevitable and has helped to build the histories of interpretation that we are born and brought up in.
Ideas of law seem to me to be linked with power and I have not always experienced these positively from the church. People can find themselves outside the church for such trivial reasons. My great aunt could never receive communion again because she married for a second time while her first husband (taken away by an invading army years before) was never proven dead. As a child I learned that all the divorcees and gay and lesbian people in perfectly stable and functional relationships were considered to be in sin (and the outrage of some gossiping Christians that people “like that” come to church). We continue to hear with shame, hard-line rules against simple necessities like contraception, and we know there is a link between this and other archaic laws like barring women from being clergy.
But then it seems like the law that is so stringent on some, is more easy on others. George Pell seems very resistant to returning to face the secular law, which is interesting because his public voice has always been so legalistic in tone. When I consider the tendency for powerful men to escape consequences for whatever they do, then I realise I am not quite so anti-law in my own thinking and I can dive back into the first reading.
Think of all the calls for “de-regulation” these days, of the ideal that is preached of “freedom”. What a harsh sort of a freedom that is, the freedom of the market. Basically in this world-view governments and societies will stop interfering with the flow of capital so that those who are rich and unscrupulous can be even more free to exploit, lie and cheat as they want. Protecting vulnerable humans or the environment would be a thing of the past in this terrible freedom.
The first reading compares law with fire and water. Fire can mean warmth, safety, togetherness, the ability to cook our food, light. Water can mean refreshment, cleanliness, peace, life. Law also can bring us together and build society fostering right relationship.
Fire can get out of control and mean burning, danger, death. Water can become storms, tidal waves, ruthlessness and also death. Law that is out of control we experience as oppressive power- it rips apart individuals and relationships. But despite the dangers of law it remains as significant as water and fire. Noone is to be given license to be unjust or harm each other.
I might have hoped that the second reading would tell me what the good law is- how to recognise it and maybe seven easy steps to follow to always be right. Not so. The law in this reading is according to a mysterious and hidden Wisdom of God. My heart leaps there she is again, we know Wisdom from other readings her values seem to be liberation and generosity although she is hard to follow and impossible to pin down.
It was unawareness of Wisdom which resulted in the death of Jesus. The need to put to death opposition, to silence critical voices and to maintain the status quo against all threats is a need counter to the agenda of renewing refreshing Wisdom. This is good news when I am the critical voice but the challenge is to remember it when I have worked hard to make something that seems to me good and someone else has an unpalatable opinion to share. It is significant that the reading talks about “this age” in the present tense. It is always “this age” when the voices that try to bring Wisdom’s compassion and liberation to a hurting world are silenced, trivialised or in extreme cases persecuted (content warning on the last link).
So there is no blueprint for knowing Wisdom, no infallibility given in any power that sets itself up over us. But the Spirit works for us to scrutinise all things, even the depths of God. Within Godself we find a deep integrity and an ability to be reflexive and process questioning from “the other”. We find that “otherness” even within the very identity of who God is. To anyone who has experienced being the “outsider” in some way this is unbelievably good news.
This gospel sometimes gets read as a sort of divine nit-picking by Jesus, a raising of standards for who can qualify as “good”. I don’t think this is an entirely fair reading. Jesus may be inviting us to reflect on the purpose behind a law, to enter into the spirit not just the letter of a law that coming from Wisdom must be aimed at transforming who we are to the depths of our being. The key here seems to be right relationships- responding to people in all situations with respect and love, speaking with honesty and not letting negative feelings fester and eat us up from the inside.
There may be hyperbola in the specifics, (as an enneagram 4, I see a sort of grandiose over-the top desperation to be heard here) but aside from that, the connection between what we do and who we authentically are may apply.
If you are on facebook and linked in with the left-side of politics you might have seen how the growing fear and dissatisfaction with many leaders has fostered a gleeful slogan: “punch a nazi”. This expresses the despairing frustration of many, as xenophobic and regressive ideas gain a foothold in society but it glorifies violence and reifies a “good guys vs bad guys” view of the world which probably does more harm than good.
The gospel acknowledges that the temptation within us can be to let anger and despair change who we are and how we treat people. Most of the people saying this awful slogan, would probably not really punch another person but Jesus in today’s gospel seems to be saying something that Foucault would agree with that we construct ourselves within discourses (both in our own heads and outwardly) and we become the ideas we circulate.
I hope you will enjoy entering into a moment of silence with these readings, or in whatever way is best for you.
We have an opportunity now to think over our own reactions and relationship to the law and Wisdom of God! We have a chance to think about our identity within ourselves and our dealings with others. Relationship moves from within each of us to others, so after some time in silence please if you wish share your thoughts with each other.