Ordinary 25 / Proper 20 (Year A)

Today we are looking at the readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, aka Proper 20, aka the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost. September 20, 2020. The readings assigned for this Sunday are Exodus 16:2-15 or Jonah 3:10 — 4:11; Philippians 1:21-30; and Matthew 20:1-16.

I would like to talk about the beginning of the reading from Philippians. Paul talks about life and death, and about which is his preference. He writes this:

21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

Philippians 1:21-24, NRSV

Paul is working from a premise he outlined in Romans (in last week’s lection, oddly enough):

If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

Romans 14:8, NRSV

To Paul, nothing can stand between us and God’s love, so that if we’re living, we belong to God, and if we’re dead, we equally belong to God. Here in Philippians he builds on that premise to discuss whether he would prefer to live or die. He says casually, almost off-handedly, “Eh, I really would like to die and be with Christ, but I know that I’m needed here.” Sounds as casual as someone saying, “Yeah, I really would prefer to knock off work early today, but my boss is counting on me to get this project done this afternoon.”

If someone talked like this today, we would (rightly) question if they are having suicidal ideation. We usually think of suicide as something active; we think of a suicidal person as someone actively considering ending their own life. And that’s not wrong. At its worst, suicidal thoughts are exactly that. But there is also something called passive suicidal ideation. People who are passively suicidal don’t necessarily have a plan in mind, and don’t necessarily view their lives as so painful that death would be the only palliative.

Passive suicidal thoughts are more like driving past a bridge and thinking, “You know what? Why not just end it tomorrow?”

Passive suicidal thoughts are more like doing a chore and thinking, “This is so meaningless. In fact, everything in life is meaningless. There’s no point in continuing to live tomorrow. I guess I could stay alive, but there’s really no reason to bother.”

Passive suicidal thoughts seem to me to be more about a lack of meaning than about pain. Passive suicidal ideation is numb.

I’m not suggesting that Paul was passively suicidal. Paul’s psyche is an enigma to me — I mean, the guy clearly liked being locked in Roman prisons. I think his ambivalence about life and death was truly about faith, not about mental illness. But many of us have an ambivalence about it today, and it is about mental illness.

Passive suicidal ideation does not always lead to active suicidal planning, but it certainly can. If you or someone you love is considering suicide, don’t forget the hotlines.

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment below. If you like what you read here, please share it with others. You can like Biblia Luna on Facebook at @BibliaLuna, or follow on Twitter at @LunaBiblia. If you’d like to read other things I write, from sermons to poems to rants to mathematical nonsense, check out my primary blog at thescholtes.com. You can also support this project at Patreon.

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