by Carla Christopher Wilson
This week's lectionary text takes us back to the very beginning of Jesus' ministry. Jesus has finished giving his initial instructions to the twelve disciples he called and has begun a traveling and teaching ministry. Who is this new human source of wisdom and theology shaping knowledge anyway? At this point Jesus is still a minimally known and minimally resourced man of dubious origin. He is a rural tradesmen; brilliant but without prestigious bloodline or extensive economic privilege. He begins by speaking about an even more marginalized "outsider" character, his herald and cousin, John the Baptist.
John is yet another man who has found himself on the outskirts of society, questioned for behavior and lifestyle and fashion choices that place him firmly outside of the status quo. Other outsiders and bold thinkers are drawn to his message and his following is considerable but still, John the Baptist remains at odds with government leaders and law enforcement and the higher ups of the church.
Who can be trusted in this time when church leaders are bought and sold by the Empire and when there are so many different factions within a faith community called to unity generations ago? Who can we listen to? Surely to solve modern (at that time) challenges so complex and rife with historical context and political and spiritual implications we can't turn to people outside of the system. We can't listen to those without the highest level of traditional education. We can't give credence to voices who aren't vetted by having achieved success and power within the current system. We turn instead to our books and our coffee klatches and the latest gurus of thought and knowledge, popping up on street corners and temple steps across the region. The voices we reject again and again are the bodies intimately tied to the most broken parts of a broken system. The ones who are able to speak with first-hand knowledge and able to give us stark and unvarnished truth, having lived through it with their own bodies. Chance after chance, verse after verse, we turn away from the seemingly too-simple truths spoken by underestimated outsiders.
In this week's lectionary John “came neither eating nor drinking and was called a demon” and then “the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they called him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. When I read this passage I think of Collin Kaepernick taking a silently protesting knee and being called treasonous so our students take to the streets and are called anarchists. Two thousand years later, the dominant majority continue to craft statements and academic programs on “a way forward” while denouncing the outcry of those in, with, and shaped by the injustice we seek to resolve. No matter how a marginalized person presents themselves or what devices they use to approach those in power, deep wisdom in an unexpected package remains a gift unopened.
As we minimize or reject (intentionally or unintentionally) these first hand stories of lived truth from those whose bodies have been on the front lines of both experiencing and seeking to call out broken or corrupt systems, the rest of us take to our think pieces and book studies and webinars to try and deconstruct where everything went so very wrong. There is, certainly, valuable learning in those spaces. There is self-education and mutual reflection we must do – in time. When Jesus says in Matthew 11:25 that Wisdom has been revealed to infants though, he is speaking of innate knowledge, instinctual understanding, and the wisdom of first-hand experience from cultural and cellular and bodily memory. Wisdom is hidden from the wise and the intelligent (benchmarks of knowledge traditionally associated with academic achievement as determined by the dominant culture) until they can unite body with soul, mind with spirit.
As we wrestle prayerfully through the most intense election season of our generation, a racial justice uprising, a trans* justice outcry, an immigration crisis, and the collapse of the last myths of benevolent capitalism, who are the voices we are still refusing to center? Who are the leaders we are pushing to the back, as we look to the inner sanctums of privilege for answers? Who are we dismissing in judgement that has in love, the gateway to healing’s path? What can we do to step aside and to listen?
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.