Today is the Feast Day of Saints Simon and Jude - of whom little is written within, or outside of the Bible. The end of the reading for today gave me pause. Jude ecourages those within the faith to, "have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies."
The first exhortation goes along with the book I have been reading with United Methodists in New England - Brian McLaren's Faith After Doubt. Doubting or wavering in one's faith, McLaren kindly observes, is not only highly prevelent in our present culture, it is a stage of faith. It is something we can pass through and come out stronger.
In the Compassion Course taught by Thom Bond, we have just engaged with a less on on the "protective use of force." Snatching people "out of the fire" is a protective use of force. While many commentaries like to interpret the fire as eternal punishement for all time, I find it far more helpful to think of the present "fires" that torment us. The trick here is what to do about agency. When a toddler virges from the yard to a busy street, we wouldn't hesitate to snatch them out and place them inside a fenced in place where they can be safe, and we who are supervising can have peace of mind. But other situations make it harder to decide when and how to use protective force. I have an addiction to sugar and flour. Yesterday I had not planned out our supper before the end of the day and found myself with my daughter in the store picking out food that had both - orange chicken, spring rolls and a tub of gingersnaps. My actions of buying, heating up and serving these foods to myself and my children are keeping us bound to these addictive substances. They do damage to our bodies and reinforce the addictive habit tracks in our brains. While this might not seem to be "fire" I know that continuing these actions is keeping me bound to practices that can lead to early dementia, diabetes and many other health problems. But right now, if a friend or family member tried to use protective use of force it very likely would backfire. Likewise, it is questionable if protective use of force really works with other addictions. It certainly backfired with Prohibition. How might we use protective force to protect people from fentanyl? Addictions require one's agency as a key ingredient to salvation.
The last admonition is the most troubling to me. How am I to relate to some people with mercy and fear together? And is it really their bodies which defile their clothing? How does that measure up with my belief that every human being is made in the image of God, and is of sacred worth? Isn't it our clothing, our habits that belong to the practices of the wrath, that defile us? I need to do some more word study - the little exploration I made with my limited understanding of Greek indicates that there may be other ways understand what Jude is telling us.
Here is a prayer for today by Br. Daniel Benedict:
God of all hopeless cases and lost causes,
as we commemorate Simon and, jude, cause us to trust you
in all that overwhelms
with all that risks obscurity,
for all the disregarded. Amen.
Sarah Mount Elewononi is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. A member of the New England Annual Conference for over 20 years, Sarah now resides with her family in greater Pittsburgh. Sarah completed the requirements for her doctorate from Boston University on Christmas Eve 2014. She worked with Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker and Dr. Nancy Ammerman to better understand worship and change - both how repeated acts of worship change us, and how and why worship changes whether we want it too or not, and why we can be resistant to that change. Her dissertation was focused on Methodist worship at New England camp meetings in the 19th Century. Sarah is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Order of St. Luke and the Girl Scouts. Currently she leads her daughters' Girl Scout troop and serves as a substitute teacher. She also teaches a variety of United Methodist Course of Study offerings in worship, theology and Biblical studies.