The Readings: Joshua 1:1-9; Ephesians 3:1-13; Matthew 8:5-17
“Like a thornbush brandished by the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of a fool” (Prov. 26:9).
Or a text, for that matter. Like our first reading, used unwisely in too many places to underwrite hatred and violence. The challenge: what would a wise use look like? Perhaps when the community is relatively small and powerless, tempted to throw in the towel and assimilate: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed.”
Or, even in this situation, to be guided by other stories. Elijah and Elisha, faced the danger of assimilation to the surrounding culture, and Elijah kept the Sidonian widow and her son alive (1 Kgs 17:9-24), and Elisha healed the Syrian general who was notably successful in defeating Israel (2 Kgs 5:1-19). Jonah, arguing unsuccessfully with God for the destruction of the capital of the brutal Assyrian Empire (Jon 4:1-11). Yes, God can eliminate the enemy, but it turns out that God would really rather not. (And since even a cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals that the people of God are God’s most implacable enemies, that’s perhaps a good thing.)
It does look like Paul and Jesus paid attention to those stories. So Paul celebrates God’s plan to make the Gentiles fellow heirs (the hill Paul was prepared to die on, as Acts 21-28 makes clear), and Jesus heals a Roman officer’s servant, and commends that officer’s faith.
“Interpret Scripture by Scripture” is one of the oldest principles in the Jewish and Christian communities. Which Scripture we use to interpret which Scripture turns out to be remarkably revelatory of who we are, and of how little space separates wisdom and folly.