Generation to Generation

Mom and son
Photo credit: <a href="">Ed Yourdon</a>

Malachi 4:5-6

Just before the day all of these great and awesome things happen, I’ll send Elijah to tell you the truth. He’ll show parents how to do right by their kids, and kids to do right by their parents. That way your community won’t be totally wiped out.

Understanding between one generation and the next is essential for any society to continue to exist more than a few years. And yet, tension and misunderstanding between generations is nearly always the state of things when a new generation comes of age.

“Kids these days!” is something every generation exclaims about the next at some point, while “My parents just don’t get it,” is probably as often said by each generation of the one before.

The pain around these struggles to understand and to be understood is particularly acute, ironically enough, because (in spite of appearances to the contrary) members of both generations know the existence of the community depends on finding common ground, on “parents doing right by their kids, and kids doing right by their parents.”

One can easily see Malachi sitting on either side of this great divide. Is he the old prophet looking on as “kids these days” seem to be taking society in a new direction he doesn’t approve of (all these new-fangled ideas about marriage)? Or is he the young firebrand prophet looking at the mistakes of the older generation he and his peers feel they need to fix (they’ve compromised away the real meaning of life behind empty ritual)?

In either case, Malachi has the wisdom to see that it will take both sides of the generational divide doing right by each other, and the one who can tell the truth to every generation and have them listen and understand is a rare gift from God.

Get It?

girl wearing a paper hat
Photo credit: <a href="">David Urbanke</a>

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

The point of the cross is totally lost on dying people. But it’s God’s power for those of us who are rescued by it. The writings say:

I’ll unhinge the wisdom of the wise,
I’ll outsmart the knowledge of the know-it-alls.

Where’s the smartypants? Where’s the scholar? Where’s the politician? Hasn’t God made fools of them all? God’s wisdom is past the reach of human wisdom. Instead, God decided to rescue those who embrace our foolish story. Jews want to see signs. Greeks long for wisdom. What we have is Jesus, on the cross – which Jews think is revolting, and pagans think is idiocy. Nevertheless, for everyone who’s called to him, regardless of ethnicity, Jesus is God’s power and wisdom. God’s idiocy is wiser than people’s wisdom. God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

There will always be some people who just don’t “get it.” They’re dying because they don’t get it. For whatever reason, they simply can’t figure out what the crucifixion is about. A story about the superhero that gets killed by the bad guys isn’t going to have a very good run in Hollywood. A savior who gives up without a fight doesn’t make sense to people who see the world in terms of political and economic power.

Most of the theology that has accumulated around the cross, particularly Paul’s construction of substitutionary atonement, really doesn’t make sense. Even so, the power of non-violent resistance continues to stymie those addicted to other kinds of coercion all around the world today. There are some people who just don’t “get” what modern practitioners of the way of the cross (Ghandi, and Dr. Martin Luther Kind Jr., for example) did.

The beauty of it is, as Paul says, that it’s available to anyone and everyone. It’s not culturally, ethnically, or even religiously dependent. You don’t need to be the smartest, or the slickest. You just have to get it.

Got it?

Open Up!

ear diagram
Image via Wikipedia

Mark 7:31-37

On his way back from Tyre, Jesus passed through Sidon toward the Sea of Galilee and the Ten Cities area. Some people there brought him a deaf and dumb man, and solicited Jesus to lay hands on him. Jesus took the man aside and put his fingers in the man’s ears. Then he spat on his finger and put it on the man’s tongue. Then, looking up, Jesus said, “Effatha.” (Translation: “open up.”) And, poof! The man began to hear and speak clearly without being tongue-tied.

Jesus told the people not to tell anyone, but the more he tried to get them to shut up, the more excited they were to blab it all over. They were thrilled with amazement and said, “He’s so great! He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak!”

First, Sidon and the Decapolis (Ten Cities) is the territory of foreigners, gentiles, enemies, the unclean. Jesus is out of bounds.

Second, according to the law, saliva is as unclean as any excrement. And yet, it is the unclean that heals.

Third, Jesus can get the man to hear and speak by speaking to him in Aramaic (a language the foreigner wouldn’t likely understand). But he can’t get the people to listen and not speak.

Everything about this incident is backwards. But being backwards, we learn:

  1. We can often accomplish the greatest good when we go beyond what’s ordinarily acceptable.
  2. The things that seem the most unacceptable are often what we need the most.
  3. The way to healing and understanding often comes when we stop talking.

Besides that, the word Jesus uses, “open up,” turns out to be a pretty good motto. Next time you’re shut out, when you’re unsure, when you can’t express yourself, when you’re tongue-tied. Open up. You can even stick your fingers in your own ears and touch your own tongue if it helps remind you: open up. Stop blabbing all over town and listen. The people who blab the most are the ones who’ve probably missed the whole point of what they’re talking about.