A Look in the Mirror

Lebowski in the mirrorMatthew 22:15-22

Then the Tea Party leaders got together, conspiring to entrap Jesus on the record. So they sent in some of their representatives along with a few Senators.

They said, “Professor, we know how sincere and godly and truthful you are, and how you tell it like it is, and how impartial you are with people. So, tell us what you think about this: Is the federal income tax constitutional, or not?”

Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you pestering me with this, you hypocrites? Show me a dollar bill.” So they showed him a dollar bill. And he said, “Whose picture is on this? Who does it say that is there?”

“Washington,” they said.

“Give to Washington what belongs to Washington, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this they were dumbfounded. So they left him and went away.

Rarely does the original context mirror the modern one so perfectly. Even to the point that people who confuse church and state for the same thing continue to be dumfounded by Jesus telling them, then and now, that they are worlds apart.

Royal Wedding Gets Crashed: A Parable

Prince William and Kate MiddletonMatthew 22:1-14

Jesus told yet another story:

The goal is like this:

Prince William was engaged! So the royal family began making plans for the reception, and when the time came the Queen sent couriers to bring the invited guests. But they wouldn’t come. She sent them out again with the message: “Hey, the reception is ready. I’ve even got fillet mignon and caviar. Come! But they made fun of the whole affair. One went on a cruise, another went to her corner office instead. More than one of the couriers were kidnapped, mistreated, and some even executed as spies.

Well, the queen was furious. She sent shock troops out to round them all up, brought them in and slaughtered them all, and laid waste their lands and businesses. Then she sent her couriers out again into the streets. “The wedding is going ahead regardless,” she told them. “Invite everyone you see.” So they did. They brought in everyone they could find, saints and scoundrels alike. Soon Westminster Cathedral [Abbey] was filled to capacity.

Then the queen came in, and looking over the crowd she saw a fellow who wasn’t wearing a suit. She said to him, “Sir, how did you get in here without a suit?” But he just stood there in shock. So the queen said, “Arrest him. Shackle him. And send him to Siberia. He belongs with those haunted by regret and anxiety.

Many get the chance. Some take it.

Of course, the real wedding didn’t go that way. It’s a story to engage your imagination. What if… And the location in which Jesus tells the story (while leading a people’s occupation of the Temple court during the run-up to Passover) is significant. He’s holding a “teach-in” with a story about the people occupying a place once reserved for only the elite. In that moment, it’s their story. In this moment, it’s ours.

If you mistake the Queen for God, you end up with the spoiled-rotten God of today’s Exodus story without Moses to talk her down. Be careful! Jesus never says, “God is like the king who…” but “the kingdom of heaven [the goal] is is comparable to a king who…” It’s an important distinction. Jesus is trying to get us somewhere: to the kingdom, to the goal. The parable is not about the character of God. Rather, it imagines how we might get there. And how we might not. And how we might seem to get there, but miss.

The goal (the kingdom of heaven, the wedding banquet, Westminster Abbey) begins as something the well-connected, powerful movers and shakers, rich and successful in business seem to have at the beginning. And yet, when they are invited to participate in the goal, they don’t realize what they’ve got. They turn away. They ridicule it in pursuit of other things. On the other hand, ordinary folk are excluded. The great reversal happens when (again, as in the Exodus story) the failure of those who have it all to claim it all ends up in their losing it all.

So, the parable suggests the goal is within reach of everyone and anyone who wants to claim a ticket. Only the ticket does require doing a little work. You’ve got to put on a suit. Your best suit, no matter the condition, will do. It doesn’t matter if it’s old and ratty, but you’ve got to put it on. Failure to change yourself on the way is every bit as much a misunderstanding of the goal as the elite folk ignoring and making fun of it. If you arrive as you were, you haven’t really arrived. And that, too, ends in oblivion, albeit of a different sort.

While much has been (rightly) said of “God’s preferential option for the poor,” the parable is a warning that to reach the goal, even the poor, the average, the ordinary people need to claim it or miss the opportunity. That’s the anxiety and regret.

The upside: Now, this moment, is your opportunity. Many have the chance to make something of it.

Will you take it?

Another Look at the 12 Disciples

12 Disciples
12 Modern Day Disciples by Kiiroi Yumetobu

Matthew 10:1-4

Then Jesus called out 12 of his disciples, and he sent them out to get rid of evil spirits and to make people well. Those sent out are:

  1. Pete,
  2. Pete’s brother Drew,
  3. Jim Zebedee,
  4. John Zebedee,
  5. Phil,
  6. Bart,
  7. Tom,
  8. Matt (“the Collector”),
  9. Jim Alphaus,
  10. Thad,
  11. Simon (“the Heathen”), and
  12. Judas Iscariot (“the Traitor”).

It can’t be just coincidence that all of these characters are named after people who were heroes of the Maccabean revolution.

During the Greek occupation of what is now Palestine and Israel, in the wake of Alexander the Great, the Maccabees led the revolt against the imperial occupation. You can get most of that story from several books of the Apocrypha. Short version: the Greeks set up a statue of Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem and all hell broke loose. Eventually, the Greeks went home (and the Romans moved in).

But now, years later, people were naming their little boys after those great Maccabean rebel warriors. Why? Because they wanted those little boys to grow up and kick the Romans out the same way their namesakes gave it to the Greeks.

So out of the whole crowd of disciples following Jesus, he picks this band of people with revolutionary names to do what? Carry out a revolution. They’re doing what? Getting rid of evil spirits, “casting out demons.” Whichever euphemism you pick, they’re going to go kick butt and redeem the people. Sounds like a revolution to me.

It’s the method Jesus chooses that’s peculiar. They’re not going out with swords and bombs, without provisions or even spare change. They’re going out as the world’s first movement of itinerant peace activists.

Revolutionary!

It can’t be a coincidence.

Faith-Healing 101

Blind manMatthew 9:27-31

As Jesus was leaving, two blind guys followed along, calling, “Help us, Great Deliverer!” He went into his house, and they followed him in. Jesus said, “Do you really think I can do this?”

“Yes, sir” they said.

So he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be as you believe.” And they saw. Then Jesus said, “See to it that nobody gets wind of this.” But as soon as they left they started blathering it all over town.

In this instance, as well as in the previous healing story, being able to see and being made well has not so much to do with some magical power or ability of Jesus. It has to do with the capacity for faith, the system of beliefs, that pervade the lives of those needing sight and healing. All Jesus does is help us get in touch with that.

The woman with the flow of blood remained sick so long as she believed what everyone told her about her about being a pariah and unworthy of medical care.

With these blind guys, too, they see what they believe. Who knows what they were blind to, or what the content of their vision was that they saw in Jesus’ house that day! Perhaps they saw (gasp!) that Jesus wasn’t that kind of miracle worker. That Jesus was someone altogether different than the Deliverer they expected. Or could it be that their experience only confirmed what they thought they knew, making their misrepresentation about what kind of deliverer Jesus was even more far-fetched than before? What story – that Jesus didn’t want told – did they blather about town when they left?

We have no answers, of course. But the story leaves us with (at least) three questions worth pondering for ourselves:

  1. What do we say about Jesus, not because we know but because we’ve always been told it about him?
  2. What are we (intentionally) being blind to?
  3. Do we allow our experiences to enlighten us, to change our minds and paradigms, or do we shoehorn our experience into the contours of the stories and worldviews we’ve always told ourselves?

Happy soul searching (I mean faith healing)!