Expanding Privilege

Monday, May 21, 2012 — Week of 7 Easter

John Eliot, Missionary among the Algonquin, 1690

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 965)

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:1952 (evening)

Joshua 1:1-9

Ephesians 3:1-13

Matthew 8:5-17

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Many of us live with presumptions of privilege, including divine privilege. Sometimes God turns our expectations over, and extends blessing beyond our imagination.

Psalm 89 articulates two expectations of privilege that were core to Israel’s identity. “I have sworn an oath to David my servant: I will establish your line for ever.” (89:3b-4a) “I shall make his dominion extend from the Great Sea to the River.” (89:25)

The Hebrew Scriptures articulate in several places the expectation that God would bless and protect David’s royal dynasty for all times. The Scriptures also make a geographic claim. In today’s reading in Joshua and elsewhere, Israel hears the promise that God gives them a wide expanse of land, from the Mediterranean all the way to the Euphrates River in modern Iraq.

Those expectations have been defined by many in nationalistic terms, in terms of power and privilege.

Psalm 89 recognizes that God did not keep the promise to David according to their expectations. The Psalmist reminds God of those promises and asks God to restore the monarchy. It is a prayer that will not be answered, a promise that will not be fulfilled, at least not in the expected way.

Even in its brief moment of widest political boundaries, Israel never had sovereignty extending to the Euphrates. For centuries it was a people without land — a people who learned to live faithfully in exile. God did not fulfill the promise of land, at least not in the expected way.

Today some are reclaiming that latter promise. Christian Zionists promote a map on behalf of Israel that claims God gave Israel the lion’s share of the Middle East. They reclaim that geography and urge political action to support it. Yet these are the ancient homes of many other peoples, including many Christians. The potential for conflict is world threatening.

Next to some of these nationalistic claim of power and divine privilege are other traditions, traditions of wider inclusion and blessing.

In our story from Matthew, Jesus remarks on the faith of the Roman Centurion in Capernaum, saying, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (8:10b-12) As Matthew writes, those presumptive “heirs of the kingdom” could be Christians as well as Jews.

In Ephesians we hear a defense of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles — to the “others.” “The Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:6)

God often surprises us by refusing to meet our expectations of privilege and power, even those articulated in scripture. God often expands the boundaries of divine blessing and inclusion, even toward those people excluded in some accounts of scripture. It seems to be a lesson of history that we create much tragedy and violence when we try to enforce the privileges we presume are ours to claim from God. It seems to me that we are more likely to be following the track of God’s intention when we hold our sense of privilege lightly and when we expect to discover God’s blessing and presence in the unexpected.

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