Where It Hurts

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 — Week of Proper 12, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

2 Samuel 3:22-39

Acts 16:16-24

Mark 6:47-56

Stories of healing, liberation, and transformation aren’t good news for everyone. As today’s second reading shows, healing one person’s disease leads to another person’s disaster. In one way or another, many of us depend on someone else’s sickness, deprivation, or incapacity in order to sustain our own livelihoods and lifestyles. How would we greet the news of their health, freedom, and power?

In our reading from Acts, we meet a slave girl who is possessed by a spirit of divination. She makes a lot of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She seems to see her chance for freedom in the ministry of Paul and his apostles. She keeps following them around and shouting that they offer “a way of salvation.” After a few days, Paul gets annoyed with all the shouting, and he orders the spirit to come out of her.

This story follows a Biblical pattern. First, an oppressed person complains long and loud. Second, someone gets fed up and does something about it. When someone does act, they often strike a blow right where it hurts: someone’s pocketbook. The Exodus story follows this basic pattern. The liberation of the Israelite slaves didn’t just cost the Egyptians a lot of money, but it demolished the very way that the Egyptians made their living.

The owners of the slave girl recognize what has happened. Paul’s liberating act has cost them “their hope of making money.” They respond by riling up the ruling authorities and a crowd

by claiming that Paul and Silas are challenging their cultural and national identity. The slave owners say that Paul and Silas, two Jews, are pushing customs that change their way of life and threaten their Roman allegiances. Of course, they never mention their real objection to Paul and Silas: that these apostles of the Most High God have destroyed their livelihood.

When people try to stir up our anger, our patriotism, and our defensiveness about our “way of life,” we would be wise to look behind those emotions to the reasons people provoke them. Most likely, we will find someone whose livelihood is threatened by the health and freedom of someone else. The most famous and shameful example is the American and Christian defense of slavery.

Contemporary examples abound, in many sectors of the economy. People instinctively defend their livelihood and provoke others to defend a way of life or a national identity over and against healing and freedom for others: Financial regulations threaten the wealth of investors. Health insurance reform and minimum-wage laws shrink the profits of businesses. Climate change legislation threatens the livelihoods of everyone from car makers to coal miners. Education reform imperils the incomes and benefits of some public sector employees. The de-funding of ineffective social service programs wipes out jobs in the non-profit sector. And the health and improvement of a spouse or child cancels a family’s disability payment.

Everywhere we look, people are tempted to put our fears about earning a living ahead of the flourishing of God’s people. And, like the magistrates and crowds in today’s reading from Acts, we witness the attempts of others to arouse our anger about some impending change. Behind that anger, there is likely someone whose livelihood is threatened or diminished by that change.

What will we do with our anxiety and others’ fear? Perhaps today we can try to claim the faith that no one’s income must depend on the sickness and enslavement of others.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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