Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The sonorous periodicity of the collect might dull us to its questionable assumptions about who we are and who God is.
Does God really expect all this humility? Does God enjoy it when we grovel? Did God really make us unworthy? And even if God did, did not Jesus change all that? Are we supposed to bribe God through Jesus’ worthiness?
Compare the Quean Lutibelle alternative to this collect: “God, please give us what we need. Thank you, Jesus.”
Recently I listened to Heathcote Williams perform Benedict Flynn’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. With almost sadistic delight, Dante, at age 35, becomes ex officio the CEO of hell. Dante is not only the narrator but also the author, and as author he alone arranges hell. He creates nine descending circles of the damned, and he chooses who gets put into each circle. He also gets to choose the punishments -- each becoming more and more bizarre.
If you were hired as temp CEO of hell for a month, whom would you consign there and where would you put each using Dante’s template to account for all the wicked whom you have observed or heard about over your lifetime?
A few of the tortures which Amos imagines are tame by comparison to Dante’s:
I will turn your feasts into mourning,
and all your songs into lamentation;
I will bring sackcloth on all loins,
and baldness on every head
That fashion statement for punishment could stand a make-over, something to gussy it up a bit, something to match the concluding prophecy:
I will make it like the mourning for an only son,
and the end of it like a bitter day.
The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
but they shall not find it.
Do not let the details of punishment distract you from noticing the behavior, which according to Amos, deserves such dire consequences:
Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
saying, "When will the new moon be over
so that we may sell grain;
and the sabbath,
so that we may offer wheat for sale?
We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,
and practice deceit with false balances,
buying the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
and selling the sweepings of the wheat."
Here this, Members of Congress, who bail out the banksters but exact fierce penalties from widows and orphans if they are undocumented, who reward hypocrites and adulterers but terminate talented soldiers if they dare tell you of their committed relationships.
Hear this, you who exact over 20 billion dollars a year in overdraft fees, but refuse to cap the salaries and bonuses of officers of your own financial institutions.
Prophecy 101 is a breeze once you get the knack of it. But it is risky if you learn to do it well and come face to face, or youtube to eyeball, with those whose behavior you bewail.
What a gem!
Do you have a boss who behaves like a tyrant? A mayor, or other elected official? An overpowering and evil family member? Send them a framed copy of Psalm 52 printed in Olde English Script.
Or better yet, use Psalm 52 to yell at God. She’s used to it, and it will make you feel much better to get the rage out of your system in a way that does not put you in yet further jeopardy.
However, don’t expect God to jump to honor your petition:
Oh, that God would demolish you utterly, *
topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling,
and root you out of the land of the living!
The psalm has you talking in the second person to the offender, not directly to God. This psalm intends God to be an eavesdropper until the very last verse, in which you speak to God:
I will give you thanks for what you have done *
and declare the goodness of your Name in the presence of the godly.
Caveat: beware of the smug self-righteousness into which this Psalm entices anyone who reads it:
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; *
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
Don’t set you mouth to claim such a thing unless a trusted independent source can publicly certify your extra-virgin olive oil.
Or as Quean Lutibelle would put it:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
I belong to the minority group put out with Jesus because of his rebuke of Martha. It’s easy enough for him as the guest and as a male never required to do housework, to dismiss Martha’s faithful domesticity, but does he himself not eat her food and enjoy the accommodation that she works to keep clean and orderly?! There is no McDonalds nor KY Fried Lamb establishment to which they might retreat so that all three could feast on conversation without let or hindrance.
True, even in this village all three could get to treasured conversation expeditiously if all three of them committed to clean the house, cook the meal, and wash up. Grab a mop, Jesus! It will enrich your conversation.
Theologian Carter Heyward has proclaimed, “Love with out justice is cheap. Sentimentality!”