Sunday Best

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Isaiah 63:7-14, 1 Timothy 1:18-2:8 (9-15), Mark 11:12-26


Like much of the world, church has become more casual. Not long ago it was a place most people dressed up for. People attended in a tie, a fancy dress, shined shoes, or a beautiful hat – their Sunday Best. Dressing well was a sign of respect for the house of God. Yet in his letter to Timothy, Paul instructed women not to wear anything gaudy to worship: no braids, jewelry, or expensive clothes. He didn’t mention men’s clothing, but he did tell them to pray “without anger or argument” – behavior they could put on as external signs of exaggerated, manly self-righteousness. He wanted people to practice modesty and humility rather than displaying the sort of religious spectacle Jesus had so clearly denounced.

in Mark’s Gospel, a hungry Jesus spied a fig tree that had sprouted leaves, a sign that it was bearing fruit. Upon closer inspection, the fig tree bore no fruit at all (which wasn’t terribly surprising since figs weren’t in season), so Jesus cursed it and it withered. This story bewilders a lot of people who wonder why Jesus would hurt an innocent fig tree. Perhaps it makes more sense if we remember the tree was representing itself as something that it was not – a valuable resource to the community. Jesus cursed the tree right before he cleansed the temple of money changers – people who pretended to be working in the service of the temple but were really in it to exploit the faithful for their own gain. The money changers and the fig tree both promised something good but delivered only physical and spiritual starvation.

Both passages point to a trait Jesus emphasized many times: authenticity. Only by being our true selves before God and humanity can we hope to bear healthy fruits of the spirit. Pretense is like a fig leaf out of season and doesn’t survive close inspection. Whether in a three piece suit or a sackcloth, each of us should present ourselves as a humble servant. Our Sunday Best is not what we put on our bodies, but what pours forth from our hearts.

Comfort: Your authentic self is your best self.

Challenge: Look beyond people’s appearances to the fruits of their spirit.

Prayer: O God my creator, teach me to love your creation as it is, not as I would have it be. Amen.

Discussion: When do you feel most authentic? Least authentic?

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