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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Being Followers of the Prince of Peace

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Today’s readings invite us to be humble people of peace who let neither our ambitions nor our jealousies get in the way of living our faith by caring for our brothers and sisters. But, if the immediate message seems clear, the paradox of Jesus’ call to be peacemakers quickly collides with the violent history of Christendom – not to mention the Church’s continued violence against women and sexual minorities. How might we look beyond the contradictions in the Scriptures so that we can focus on God’s personal call in our own lives? 

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September 19, 2021: The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time 

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20 

Psalm 54: 3-4, 5, 6, 8 

James 3:16 – 4:3 

Mark 9:30-37 

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A reflection by Marianne Seggerman 

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The theme for the readings for this Sunday is simple. War is sinful. Peace is Godly. The gospel also teaches the need for humility. The previous readings, however, say it loud and clear.  To quote the book of Wisdomit begins with the wicked saying, “Let us beset the just one. Likewise, James asks, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Wisdom from above is peaceable. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace. 

If this is so, then what do we make of all the wars in the Bible? Battles make up a large part of the books of Samuel and Kings. Which is it? Is war a sin to be shunned at all costs or is it to be waged for the glory of God (and His anointed leaders on Earth).  I read a book titled, You Have Got to Be Kidding, a biblical commentary which if I found it in a bookstore would probably be in the humor section.  The author applies common sense to various passages in the Bible to simultaneously profound and hilarious results.  In one chapter the author lists sections of the Bible which can be skipped over altogether – and the minutiae of the battles in the Hebrew Scriptures loom large in that category.  But seriously, if we say some sections of the Bible can be skipped does that judgment call into question the divine inspiration of the entire document?  And who is qualified to decide what parts are important and which parts are not? Is a solid theological background necessary to even begin to make that kind of judgment? (Note: My religious training consists of one class in college – and over half a century of attendance at Mass). 

I don’t have the answer, but I do have three responses. The first response is that one of the monikers of Jesus’ is Prince of Peace. In same the way Jesus claims not to destroy the Law but fulfill it (actually, supersede it would be strictly accurate – but who am I to correct Jesus?)as Prince of Peace, Jesus comes to proclaim an end to war.  Sadly ironic when you consider the number of wars Christians waged in the following centuries. Like the Law of Moses, war is depicted as belonging to a previous era – which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has brought to an endThe second response is that we can never fully know God’s plan. “My ways are not your ways,” (Isaiah 55:8), and so forth. So, any apparent contradiction in the Bible need not be a source of consternation but can serve as a jumping off point for further contemplation.  We can never fully understand the Bible so we need not let the apparent contradictions, however glaring they may appear to us, prevent us from continuing our quest to understand God’s plan for us. The third response is perhaps the most useful. We (at Dignity USA) live in the Catholic tradition – and the approach and use of the Bible in the Catholic faith is complicated. For starters, we have never been as wedded to the entire document the way some other Christian churches are – Catholics do not typically carry a Bible around with them. Also, the Church has already pre-determined which passages it believes are most worthy of our reflection by including them in the readings for Mass. Conversely, those passages not included in the Lectionary will only be known to a Catholic if she reads the Bible herself – an action traditionally less common among Catholics.  Why learn about all the laws spelled out in Leviticus if they no longer need to be followed?  Why focus on all the battles in Kings and Samuel if Jesus implores us to love our neighbor? 

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Marianne Seggerman
 joined the chapter of Dignity New Haven around 30 years ago. That chapter is no longer, alas, but she continues to attend the biannual conference. In her day job she is a computer programmer living (and for the moment working) in Westport, Connecticut. She is in a long-term relationship with a person raised Jewish who converted to the Mormon faith.