In the Lectionary

July 16, 15A (Genesis 25:19–34)

I haven’t always embraced the particularity of God.

The 13th-century scottish priest John Duns Scotus was one of the first to articulate the scandal of particularity. He argued that true relationship between God and humans is only possible in the specific and concrete. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to love concepts, ideals, and generalities.

Most Christians speak of the scandal of particularity in reference to the doctrine of incarnation. But it also comes up in discourse around the chosenness of God’s people through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How is it that the Creator of the universe will bless and save the whole creation? By working in and through specific individuals, families, and communities in real time, in real places, over the course of many generations, up to this very day. By entering the limits of time and space to give birth, form relationships, and influence the stories of a few, God alters the story of the many.

I haven’t always embraced the particularity of God. When I was on internship, I preached a sermon in which I disparaged the practice of praying for oneself. I could not endorse the idea of the almighty God of the cosmos caring intimately about my personal problems. I was, and continue to be, frustrated by how self-focused concern for personal salvation privatizes the Christian faith and makes it about “me and my Jesus” instead of about loving our neighbors through just and compassionate community action.