Some weeks come with their very own theme. I’m not sure exactly how it happens, but this week I’ve had many conversations about seeing the “other.” The conversations were with colleagues, parishioners, friends, and my wife. The specific topics included systemic racism, rights for undocumented immigrants, refugees, politics, and even self-hatred. Seeing, recognizing, acknowledging the other was the subtext in all these discussions. The news of the week raised this topic with the refugee/migrant/asylum seekers exiting Syria and unsettling many European countries. So too with Ahmed and his clock that got him arrested for being Muslim and showing a remarkable technical capacity.
Underscoring these news stories is the Gospel text for this week. Of course, the disciples in Mark are arguing over who is the greatest among them in their exclusive little group. The story may seem relatively innocuous–a bunch of men debating power and position. However, this incident is a segment of a much larger story. Jesus learned something from the Syrophoenician woman about the value of those outside of Israel who had always been considered unclean or, at least, less worthy than the people of Israel. He learned that lesson in one brief interaction and we have yet to learn it 2000 years later. I think we are still having the argument the disciples were having that day as they walked along rather than living by what Jesus had to say to them in response.
The disciples saw glimpses of Jesus’ divinity and wanted to get as close to that as they possibly could. They argued about who was greatest among them thinking that status would get them a seat closer to God in heaven. Jesus turns their argument upside. Children were not particularly valued in those days. Jesus really meant that part about being last and being servant of all. Welcome a lowly child and you welcome God. That’s pretty intense and not at all what the disciples thought the Messiah would say.
It seems that we still don’t want Jesus to be saying these kinds of things. Why is it okay that a presidential candidate slams immigrants and promises to build a wall around Mexico? Why is it okay that people respond to Black Lives Matter with threats of horrific violence? Why is it okay that Muslims are assumed to be terrorists? Why is it okay that there is a debate over whether refugees are really refugees when their country is wracked by war? Why is it okay to walk down the street and willfully overlook homeless people? Why is it okay to fear the “other” and dehumanize them without even thinking about who they are or where they come from?
It’s been more than two millennia since Jesus talked about being his follower by taking up one’s cross, being last, and being a servant of all. Seriously, when will we learn? We truly have resources enough to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. What are we going to do in the name of Christ to ensure that all find the welcome Jesus charged us with so long ago?
RCL – Year B – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 or Jeremiah 11:18-20
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Photos from Pixabay. Used with permission.