August 5, 2016
by Jay Carney
Creighton University's Theology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 411

Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7
Deuteronomy 32:35cd-36ab, 39abcd, 41
Matthew 16:24-28
Praying Ordinary Time

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Nahum does not make for easy reading, especially as a white man living within the largest superpower of the 21st century. Nahum reminds me that much of the Bible is written from the underside of history, from the perspective of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. It is easy for Christians to claim that our God is a God of justice, and it is also easy to be put-off by Nahum’s description of a vengeful God “casting filth” on Assyria and Nineveh. But can we have justice without retribution? What does justice mean in contexts like 7th-century Israel, where Assyria had left a trail of destruction described in today’s reading as “the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumble upon?” What does justice mean in more recent killing fields such as Armenia, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan? In a bitter irony, it is Assyria’s eponymous successor Syria that is today’s most visible embodiment of this type of war-torn oppression. In such settings, one could be forgiven for following Nahum and our Deuteronomy psalm in seeing justice in strictly retributive terms, or what Desmond Tutu has described as “they have clobbered me, and I will now clobber them back.” 

But if the narratives of victimhood and vengeance run strong in our first two readings, the gospel text from Matthew 16 offers a different vision. Just after Jesus commissioned Peter as the “rock” of the embryonic church, he informs his disciples that the path of Christian discipleship is neither one of “clobbering” one’s enemies nor “clamoring” for creature comforts. Rather, the path to salvation is one of voluntary, self-sacrificial service; the disciple is neither a victim nor a persecutor but rather a Christ-bearer. The God of reversals ultimately delivers justice through the Cross, the em-bodi-ment of the self-sacrificial love of the Son of Man. The choice on how to follow now rests in our hands.

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