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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, September 4, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Proverbs 25:6–10

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence
    or stand in the place of the great;
for it is better to be told, “Come up here,”
   than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.

What your eyes have seen
   do not hastily bring into court;
for what will you do in the end,
   when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor directly,
   and do not disclose another’s secret;
or else someone who hears you will bring shame upon you,
   and your ill repute will have no end. (NRSV)

There are so many things we humans do to gain some sort of personal advantage. We position ourselves near greatness, hoping to win recognition. We gossip—yes, to blow off steam, but also to ingratiate ourselves to the “in” group, to validate our own way of thinking, to weaken a competitor, or to put someone we dislike at a disadvantage. And what’s to stop us? Contemporary culture can surround us with callous and calculating behaviors. We see comedians mock public figures—and we laugh. Reality shows shock us with selfish actions—yet we keep watching. The steady pulse of heartlessness can numb us. We risk concluding that self-preservation requires self-promotion.

Proverbs gives us a reality check: don’t presume to merit standing in higher social circles, lest you be humiliated with rejection; don’t spill others’ secrets or shame them, lest you yourself be shamed. Jesus drew upon these very passages in Luke 14:7–11—“Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”—and in Matthew 18:15—“If another member of the church sins against you . . . point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” Yes, we should strive to reconcile and restore relationships. Yet we know that things don’t always work out so well. Take it from the illustrator Norman Rockwell, whose painting The Gossips shows a lively—but painfully true—chain of conversation across fifteen people. Not unlike Proverbs, Rockwell’s painting gives me a reality check: Do I see myself in that picture? And if so, what can I do to avoid being part of it? As the psalmist David said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.”

“Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful minds; in purer lives thy service find; in deeper reverence, praise.” Amen.

(Prayer from the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.”)

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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