October 26, 2014
On Being Right, by Pastor Kinsey
Yesterday, a wise person said to me, I treat every day, whether something good, or bad, happens to me, as if, that is exactly how I had planned it would happen – and that has freed me up, the person told me, in a spiritual way, to be fully accepting and much more hopeful in my life.
Usually, it’s not just about getting the right answer, it’s about being the right answer.
In the last year and half, or so – our Mental Health Justice Team at ONE Northside, in our negotiations with the Chicago Police Department, to increase the number of officers trained in Crisis Intervention Training – we’ve had a number of hurdles to cross. Each time when I thought we were about to win our campaign, another road block would appear. And the last one was the biggest to jump over. We had finally come to agreement on an increased number of officers trained, but when we brought up the need to be accountable in some way, to those numbers – to report how many officers were being trained each year, quarter by quarter, to us, or in some public fashion – they thought we were trying to trap them. We’re not going to let you get all the credit by reporting our numbers to you, or anybody else, they said. We’re doing Crisis Intervention Training! But we’re not going to give you all the glory, and, in the process, look bad ourselves!
And the negotiations broke down again. We walked out of the room, with only a promise they would think about it and get back to us in x amount of days.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus is getting very close to his final Passover celebration, and the leaders of Jerusalem are closing in on him, trying to lay the perfect trap, and do away with him once and for all. They know he is too popular to arrest, for there would be an outcry from the people. So the Sadducees and the Scribes, the Pharisees and Herodians, are all in competition with each other to be the one party to entrap Jesus, to be the winner, and take the credit.
Why are we like this? Competitive, split-off Lutheran denominations, and the same with Baptist’s and Presbyterians, and every religious group through the ages; the Tea Party and the Republicans, the mosaic of disagreeable Democrats, Microsoft and Apple. I guess that’s why, as followers of Jesus, we confess, first thing when we gather for worship: “Though you made us your people, we treat strangers with suspicion. Though you forgave our debts, we collect without mercy.” And all too often, it’s not just strangers, but we treat those closest to us, with suspicion and collect without mercy, as well. “Have mercy on us, O God,” we pray, “and remember your promise to us, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord!”
And so, because we are just like the Pharisees, who no doubt, are snickering under their breath, how badly their cousin Sadducees’ failed in putting Jesus to the test, they gather together, confident that, in one of their finest lawyers, they have devised the perfect entrapment question: “Teacher,” he asked Jesus, “which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Of course, out of 613 laws, it is hard to say which is the greatest. It was a topic of debate in those days, but who can ever say definitively which one is the greatest.
Jesus answers from the Shema, the most popular and the daily affirmation of Judaism, from Deuteronomy chapter 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Nothing controversial there! This is the greatest and first commandment, as Jesus says, which few would dispute. But, he quickly adds, a second is equal to it. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. [And] on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Now that was a shocker! Not because Jews didn’t also believe that. It was another law, which, as you’ll remember, we read earlier from Leviticus 19:18. But the reason it was a slap in the face was because he was talking to the Jerusalem elites who only wished to win the competition amongst their own parties, and to be right. And now Jesus had underscored how love is not just about being the holiest, or smartest, or knowing or having the right answer, but about putting that love into action, in our lives, and in the world, every day.
In our negotiations with the CPD, what really surprised me– and was a flawed assumption on their part – was that we were asking for accountability to the numbers of trained officers in CIT, not so we could look good and make them look bad. I didn’t feel in competition with them. But we were asking because we wanted to insure, what they agreed to, would actually happen in the real world, out in all the neighborhoods of Chicago. We didn’t want to win – at least not for ourselves, in competition with them – but we wanted real change for those living with mental illness, and every day being stigmatized in the communities they lived in, every day running the risk being treated differently, every day living in a fog of fear that they could end up in jail.
For the gospels, the real issue is not who is smarter, or who can trick who, but, is Jesus really the Messiah, and what does that mean for us? And if the competitive parties in Jerusalem can’t dismiss and deny who Jesus is becoming in his populism, by their arguments of entrapment – which I suspect, looked a lot like the endless competition of political ads we see on TV now leading up to the election, that try to entrap us, as voters – Jesus, in turn, decides to test them: What do you think of the Messiah, the anointed one that we are all expecting, he asks? Whose son is he? He asks this of the Pharisees, who know the scriptures best. And, of course, they know the “correct” answer, “The son of David.” And so do we, think, Palm Sunday, when we sing, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ remembering Jesus riding into Jerusalem! But for Jesus, there is more than just a correct, right answer. And so he asks them, How is it then that David himself, by the power of the Spirit, calls the Messiah his Lord, and quoting David’s own words in Psalm 110, ‘The Lord [God] said to my Lord [the Messiah], Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet? If David thus calls [the Messiah] his Lord, says Jesus, how can he be his son? That’s just the kind of bible trivia that the Pharisees normally steeped themselves in, and yet, they hadn’t thought of that. And, No one was able to give him an answer.
For Jesus, it’s not about getting the right answer, but about being the right answer. Jesus is the son of David, through Joseph, but also, by the power of the Spirit, will be the one called Lord, Son of God, and Messiah. He doesn’t care about winning and being right, in the games of Jerusalem, but he cares about being the right answer for the salvation of his people, about removing the stigma of winners and losers amongst us, about increasing God’s Crisis Intervention for those wounded in society’s wars instigated by its elites, about rescuing the world from the powers of evil that infect us all, and giving us the power and tools – of faith and hope and love – to see and combat those powers.
Martin Luther and the Reformers understood this, that Jesus came to free us up, not by being, ‘holier than thou,’ but by living and being the right answer, that we might live lives based on God’s grace. Jesus lived a life of spiritual freedom, not by winning competitive tests. But by accepting the mantle God gave him, the good and the bad, the suffering and the glory, as the plan for him in his life. Living into the life of Messiah, a life whose only weapon was God’s Word, as Luther liked to say, Jesus gifted us with his very life, so that, God might triumph over the powers of death, and we would have a model of non-retaliation, for our lives.
Almost 500 years ago, Luther, a simple German monk, nailed 95 debating points on the Wittenberg Castle door, on October 31st, not primarily to win the debate, but because he believed the Spirit of the living God, as it was being portrayed in the church in his day, was at stake. He believed that reforming the church was what the Spirit was calling him to do. And that the freedom of all Christians, and the good news of the gospel, were imperiled, if he didn’t.
We too, in this day and age, are being called, not to know the right answer, but to be the freedom, and live the good news, of the love and grace that we have received, in our Lord – and as reformers, to make real change.
That’s the plan!