070520 Pentecost 5
Zechariah 9:9-12; Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30
With apologies to Garrison Keilor, it has not been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon – or in the rest of the country for that matter. COVID 19 cases are spiking to frightening degrees around the country, while our President and Vice President continue to cheerlead their way through the crisis. One part of the populace rebels against wearing masks and social distancing, while the White House Covid task force gives conflicting messages. The latest unemployment report showed signs of improvement even as states and businesses take steps back from reopening. It’s gotten so bad that Europe has put the US on the unwelcome list. We continue to see new videos of police killing blacks, and more signs of voter suppression and Executive overreach to overturn the election. And in case we needed a little distraction from what’s going on inside our borders, we learned that Russians have been paying the Taliban to kill Americans, and the president chooses to believe the Russians’ denial rather than his own intelligence department.
It is against that background that we hear the curious phrase at the end of the Zechariah reading: Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. We are prisoners of hope. No matter how much Israel rebels, God’s choice to save them is constant and determined. As we hear those words today, we are called to believe the same: God will never reject us forever and will always be victorious in the end. No matter where we choose to place our hope apart from God, we will always be disappointed. God is the only one in whom we can hope to be saved. So, like it or not, we are prisoners of hope.
Even those of us who believe that in our heads struggle to follow it. The word I’ve heard most often this week is confusion. I hear it on the news, from medical personnel, from workers who have been laid off – again – and from some of you. We’re confused about whom to trust – John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton, so it can’t be them; and we’re confused about what to do: should Marshall Islands residents trust govt promises that the nuclear waste sites on their island are safe, or take control because they see evidence of leakage?
Sometimes we’re confused because we’re thinking dualistically. We set everything up as an either/or. We’re programmed to think that way, so we go there automatically. It’s either John or Jesus, Faith or Science, Politics or Medicine, Economics or Health. Maybe that’s one reason we’re confused. We need to be called out of our dualism, because it does not help anyone when we’re confused. It leads to inaction because we can’t decide. Jesus calls us out of our dualism.
These days we need to remember that even fear versus no fear is a false dualism. LA Times headline: “Lowered Fear could lead to Virus Disaster”. We often think of fear as a bad thing. But it’s part of our biology for a reason. If we didn’t fear, we would constantly succumb to danger. We need to pay attention to our fears by letting them inform us, without letting them rule us. Apparently at this moment, Californians need more fear, not less.
Is that what was happening in Jesus’ time? People were responding neither to the message of John nor of Jesus. They weren’t doing anything. Jesus says they were like children playing games in the market who weren’t following the rules. We played the flute, and you didn’t dance; we wailed, and you didn’t cry. The children were imitating their parents. Their fathers performed the round dance at weddings, accompanied by flutes. Their mothers were the official mourners at the funerals. The rules of the game said if the leader plays the flute, the others must dance. If the leader wails, the others must wail too. But that’s not what happened. The boys refused to play the girls’ funeral game, and the girls refused to play the boys’ wedding game.
Jesus told his listeners that they were behaving like those children. In every city where Jesus had preached, performed miracles, healed people and delivered them from demons, the response on day one was “wow”; on day two it was, “did you see that?”, and on day three, “Jesus who?” Incredible things happened in their midst, and after the big splash, they hardly created a ripple in their lives. They sat on the sidelines, uninvolved, rather than take God’s messengers seriously. They dismissed John because he abstained from normal social intercourse and Jesus for banqueting with sinners.
Our generation, like Jesus’, is inconsistent and self-absorbed, too often guided by appearances, almost exclusively interested in novelties, not committed to anything for the long term, and rarely responding in depth to a message that demands responsibility. The model of religion and faith of Jesus, who is patient and humble-hearted, (11:29) does not stay on the surface of the apparent, nor in the pride of certainty, but points to the depths of human beings: their need for care, for being listened to, for accepting their vulnerability, for love and peace. The Gospel invites us to realize that the current situation, which has brought tiredness, fatigue and the burdens of disease and death from personal, family, and social trauma, are the stage for our responsibility as true disciples of love. To take on the project of Jesus is to repent of our indifference and convert to caring for the little ones: the humble, the poor, the hungry, those who are fatigued and overburdened.
One reason I’m on the side of hope at this moment is because I see some of that happening this time. Each of the prior times that a black person was unjustly killed by a white policeman, mostly black people rose up in anger and protested for a while; when nothing changed, blacks went back to playing it safe and the rest of us went back to business as usual. It was day three: Jesus who? Black Lives what? This time, though, the protests are still going on for a second month; and they include people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. It’s not a guarantee; but it is reason to hope that maybe God sent these prophets and opened our ears to hear them.
How will we know if this time will be different? Jesus said that wisdom is known by its fruit–we show we hear by acting. We can’t just shout the slogans of marches. We must live them. And when Jesus said, Come to me you who are weary, he was showing God’s solidarity with us. But he was also inviting us to embody God’s solidarity by being in solidarity with each other. Jesus’ comforting words are not calling us to withdraw from what’s going on. They are calling us to respond with compassion and recognition for all the little ones. To our surprise, they are the ones who get it. They are also the ones who most need compassion and rest. They are the ones who have been working and risking their lives during the pandemic so the rest of us have what we need. But Jesus’ words also call us to resist the words and actions of the powerful who don’t get it, and who end up oppressing the ones who most need rest. In other words, Jesus calls us to be on the right side of history and to remain there. Is that where you are?
Surrender white people. D.H. Hughley
What do you say to people who immigrated to America after slavery and fled tyranny themselves, and don’t feel like they are responsible for it?
“Like what happened to me with covid. I was asymptomatic, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a danger to others. You don’t have to actively showing signs of racism. That doesn’t mean that in your wake there is not damage. If you say and do nothing to what is going on around you, you are part of the problem.