14th Sunday Ordinary time year a
5 July 2020 Stef Rozitis
As a writer of fiction, I love to take a trope – some character or situation that the reader thinks they recognise and twist it. Subvert it. It may not surprise you that I normally either queer it or add a feminist twist, or sometimes both. To me the first reading is doing the same thing, beginning with a trope, something we think we understand the pattern of and giving it a twist.
We have our trope, the victorious king returning to his admiring beloved. The plot twist is he is humble, he is riding on a donkey with an agenda of demilitarisation. I only wish our own government would take that idea up too. Instead we have huge public spending on missiles and semi-automatic weapons while there are cuts to education, health, welfare and the abc. Remember that oppression by Romans was Jesus’ lived reality and that the Jewish Scriptures are largely about a small nation struggling with one oppressive power after another and having to be reminded time and again to keep their sense of justice and compassion- kindness to the widow and orphan. This was not charity, the widow and orphan were entitled to be kept it was more like welfare.
If the bible reveals Wisdom, I feel it reveals a humorous Wisdom who is great company and subverts rather than nagging us. She is always doing or saying something unexpected to make us have to reconsider business as usual. This occurs in both the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament, the words of Jesus are particularly prone to have a sting in the tail, a reversal, a push beyond what is comfortable. Here the trope of the powerful king-saviour becomes a disarming force.
This is not comforting for those of us who have privilege, unless we choose to wilfully misunderstand it. Anyone invested in inequity will lose out in the new regime, and let’s be honest that could be us. But as Christians we are called to justice, to right relation and through the sacraments we develop a taste for what is fair a hunger for God’s reign. In our intersecting networks of the social, material and economic world we have to navigate, this humble, pacifist, powerful Godde is both comfort and threat.
Yesterday I went to the Bla(c)k Lives Matter rally. From the moment I sanitised my hands I had a feeling that I was walking into a church, that there was something holy going on. Notice how COVID has brought back the rituals of washing our hands before entering church and before Communion with a new importance?
The MC kept telling us to “open our ears” when she introduced each speaker and she reminded me of Mark’s Jesus in the way she said that and in the way she could show compassion for people without messing around or interrupting the flow of the event. She said uncomfortable things, but that’s not really a point of difference from Jesus either. One of the speakers told us we needed to develop a “hunger and thirst” for justice and then came the Black Virus.
The Black Virus is the nickname of an Aboriginal Elder who was old enough that he needed a folding chair to address us. He started with humour and mischief but as he went on he couldn’t help himself and began to share an obviously beloved vision of a demilitarised, respectful, loving future. He expressed love especially for the young ones of his people, that was something that the rally was full of- inter-generational affirmations from old to young and from young to old. AS he spoke a cloud parted and a ray of light suddenly bathed him and he said “there you see? This is what the ancestors want. My ancestors and yours” and he went on to say that his vision would benefit everyone whether they were Aboriginal or not and it was what we owed to future generations.
To the Black Virus (who I am sure also has a real name), as an Aboriginal man there is a sacred law that is based on caring for land and for other people. This was his ethic, tied in with his spirituality that there is a law and that we will all be happier if we follow it. He saw his way as not only more compassionate than the rule of the market but also more sustainable. “But first put down your weapons so we can talk” he said.
We need a response to global events that does not create an arms race. We need solutions in society that open doors for people and provide for their needs not that view people as merely a means to create profits thought production and consumption. We need a leader on a donkey not a warhorse, one who breaks the bow.
I feel wary of the second reading, because I have learned not to trust the spirit/flesh dichotomy, I prefer to consider myself as body-mind-soul all one. God has charged me to take care of my body, my soul, my mind as a unified entity not a war against itself. Our selves are the smallest kindom we inhabit and we ought to befriend our own imperfect, sometimes wobbly and always ageing bodies. However looking past the dichotomy which surely shows the influence of some patriarchal philosopher, might we find a useful take home message here too?
There is a world of the obvious, of what Gramsci has called “common sense” (not necessarily “good sense”) the taken for granted needs that are actually socially constructed. So if I say I need a “job” that is a socially constructed need, whereas if I say I need to do meaningful work that benefits my family and my community that is closer to what the actual need behind it is. Something that is socially constructed can of course be real and is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be opened up for questioning and allowed to evolve whereas the deeper truth behind it though harder to define is set. Another example if I say “I need a burger” it’s a fairly crude socially constructed version of my actual need to feed myself.
So if we live with needs that are socially constructed we also socially construct ways of being bodies, ways of enacting our earthliness. God might call us to question our way of being or doing body, might call us to a deeper, more engaged life of contemplation, compassion and connection. While individually trying to get in touch with our deeper selves and live closer to God is a good thing, there is a dimension of this which needs to be collective and social. How do we build a world grounded in the Spirit of the risen Christ?
We have so internalised ideas like “productivity” and we measure so many things about ourselves so that we might always fall short and have to try harder. But in the Spirit of the resurrected Christ we owe no debts to some idea of being productive, or allowing our own oppression, or the oppression of others and the tangles of responsibility which require that oppression to remain unquestioned. Our call is to be radically free, and this is only confirmed in the gospel.
I have to admit that when I initially read the gospel for this week I yelled out “are you kidding me?” because here Jesus is saying “my yoke is light” but elsewhere he is saying” take up your cross and follow me” and “whatever you do to others you do to me” and neither of those concepts is a light yoke. God is used to my not very pious outbursts and let me think on that as I cooked myself dinner.
My current thinking, which people here or life or God might push me to develop further is that the cross is not of Jesus’ making. Jesus was not made for suffering and violent death he was made for providing wine at a wedding, and stories and bread to the multitudes, and healing to the sick but then the commitment that he had to us meant he couldn’t back out. The cross is our yoke on Jesus and on each other not Jesus’ yoke on us. We would not have to work ourselves into weariness trying to advocate for and heal and help the underprivileged if we just all worked together to make loving-kindness the rule and if all were treated as if they matter. Black lives matter- oh yes they do just like a Galilean fisherman of dubious parentage mattered when he was being tortured and killed for who he was.
But Jesus is not calling us into a yoke of oppression or exploitation. I could paraphrase his words as: “learn from me because I am not invested in the rat race and if you work with me I will liberate you”. One thing I need to take note of is that rest is definitely permitted. Rest is mandated. Jesus wants us to rest.
So take a moment to ponder or even just to rest. Be in this beautiful space and know that God wants to liberate you from all that burdens you, the tangles and inequities and frustrations of a world that has yet to put down its weapons, break out of its habits of greed and fear and just rest in Wisdom.
We need each other too so after a few moments please feel free to share your thoughts with those a safe distance away but closest to you.