“…She shook her fist, then opened hands in praise.”
That’s a lament.
A lament psalm begins with bewailing
shaking a fist at the universe,
and ending with praise.
Listen to this familiar nod to Good Friday :
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest…”
But by the time Psalm 22 travels down to
verses 28 and 29, the psalmist is saying this:
”People everywhere will remember
and will turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations
will worship him
because the Lord is King,
and he rules the nations.”
It begins with a fist
and ends with praise.
So this is how I imagine
a slightly altered ending to Mark’s story:
“And after Jesus finished speaking
about the rich young man
and how none of us can squeeze…
through the eye of a needle,
Peter walked to the shore,
raised his muscular arm clenching his fist,
and praised God fiercely.”
We sure did pick a weird religion.
I love it —
because it is just as weird
as life itself.
You know, I do not even know
where to begin
talking about this story
in the context of our affluence.
I shuffled through some old sermons
and felt embarrassed
that I had preached on this Jesus saying
with a straight face.
Let’s face it,
there is not one of us
whose life is thin enough
to get through the eye of a needle.
That ain’t happening.
And by the way,
if you are sitting there thinking,
“Well my life is thin enough,”
that is the very proof it isn’t.
Even the poorest among us
is fabulously affluent
compared to the desperate poverty
and day-to-day existence
that Jesus was living in
among the pus-and-scab infested crowds
that hung on his every word.
They would have roared their approval
when hearing about that rich young man
turned away to face his own arrogance.
I think of those thousands of Haitians
living under the bridge at our border
who we forcibly swept up
and flown back to Haiti.
They weren’t coming here to get rich.
They were coming here to breathe.
To find shelter from the storm.
Any hovel that wouldn’t collapse
in an earthquake.
They weren’t coming here to get rich
they were coming here
because even the dogs deserve
to eat our children’s scraps
from under the table —
as the gospel said a few weeks ago.
It was people like those Haitians
who heard Jesus
tell the story about the rich young man
What are we to make of this?
What is it about this guy, Jesus,
we are suppose to embrace?
This is where we raise our fists and lament.
We lament the utter, raw pain of the world.
We lament the blasphemous inequality all around us.
We lament the racist
cysts that we know are growing
on our own hearts
and that we can see and hear
leaking toxins everywhere.
This is where we raise our fists and lament
that we cannot seem to stop it —
that we cannot even seem to stop ourselves.
We raise our fists and lament
there is so much awful in the world
and our own fingerprints
can be found all over the awfulness.
And then, we take a breath
and we get quiet within ourselves.
And then, we remember a tree we love.
We remember its slick green leaves
and the feel of its rough and gorgeous bark.
We remember trees
and the solid, deep, abundance of life
that trees surround us with.
And we give thanks.
And then, we remember
an awkward encounter
when we were the rich young man
and our life intersected
with someone who wasn’t,
and somehow we touched each other…
and it softened both of us.
And we gave thanks.
And then we remember
the baby blue sky of autumn
and the softening colors and shades of October
and we hear Louie Armstrong singing
in our heads, and we sing with him,
”It’s a wonderful world, oh yeah.”
And then we remember a time
when we were sure we would never recover —
or rage —
and now it is a memory that lives
over the hills and dales of the past.
In other words,
at the very moment we shake our fist
and spit into the wind
at the eye of God,
somewhere inside there is another reflex
that urges us to unclench and praise.
We may not feel it in the moment
and it may be buried deep inside
for some of us,
but that “also” is there —
ALSO, not in denial, but also
in the presence of lament —
It is an also that says, “Thank you.”
Sometimes it is only a whisper
next to the loud expletives of rage,
but it is there.
Go find it.
Go find it.
Here’s the deal: There is no reconciling
this Jesus story
with our lives.
Neither the rich young man
can squeeze through the eye of a needle.
To try to make the story smooth
is to do it violence.
We live in a both/and world
and a both/and life
and a both/and story.
The only authentic response
to the both/and life we are living, is
a clenched fist and praise.
A clenched fist, and also, praise.
That is the deep and profound wisdom
of a lament.