I don’t know how heaven will work, but if there are optional excursion packages I want to take the one where I get to listen in on the conversations that happened when people were forming the Revised Common Lectionary. I realize this will probably be one of the less popular excursions. But still. I am very curious about the parts of scripture that get left out of the designated readings.
This week, for example—why do we start with verse 2? It makes basic sense to begin at the beginning of the chapter. And it’s not a particularly long passage. They could easily have started with verse 1:
“Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.”
Maybe they thought that sounded too judgy and preachy. Better to start with:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.”
But even though verse 1 got left out of the Lectionary, I find myself drawn to these judgy, preachy words this week. I think it’s because this vice list names what I sense all around me—what is weighing on my spirit these days: malice, guile, insincerity, envy, slander. Armed protesters demanding the right to exacerbate a world-wide virus pandemic; national leaders who refuse to wear face masks in public places; conflicting and false reports; so much anger and hostility in the air on top of the general fear and fatigue of the Covid crisis.
If only we could get rid of all of that malice, guile, and insincerity.
Of course, all of these negative qualities are not just out there. I have to guard against them getting into my spirit, becoming part of the way I respond to the world. And I will admit that I am not a particularly gentle, somber, earnest person. Humor, venting, snark—these are ways I cope with life sometimes. And I’m not prepared to give them up—they’ve gotten me through some very difficult parenting situations not to mention church conferences. But I know humor can slide into malice and snark is dangerously close to insincerity, and venting can become slander.
So that’s where I finally get to the actual Lectionary reading: “long for pure, spiritual milk.” I find this a rather strange metaphor, but it points me back to the words of Jesus (that generally make more sense to me than the odd and rambling epistles): “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
Is something funny because it slams someone I don’t like, or because it points to a truth of the Kin-dom?
Does my venting express a longing for “spiritual milk” or simply a desire for certain people to drop off the face of the earth? (You can see how this gets particularly complicated for us pacifists.)
Are my snarky comments making light of human ambitions and priorities, or do they threaten to belittle the actual work of God in the world?
As I encounter a malicious world each day, I do long for the nourishment of God’s spirit so that I can grow into salvation. I want to resist the guile and insincerity and evil and slander that surrounds me and, at times, is within me. And I want to resist in a way that is true to who God has made me—and hopefully have a little fun in the process.