"Which People?" by Pastor Kinsey
During the lull of summer TV programming, Kim and I decided to start watching, The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, which swept the Emmy’s this year, winning 9 awards, more than any other show.
I can’t give you a full accounting of it, because we’re just 6 episodes into the 10 total shows. But, of course, everyone knows what the verdict was. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on “The People”. The American people are still split on the verdict, just as much as O.J. is a man of two worlds, and the key players in the whole affair – like lawyers, Johnny Cockran, Marcia Clark, and the host of others – are full of contradictions, both virtuous and contemptable.
If you weren’t there for the real thing in 1994-5, you probably still know something about what a media circus it was. In terms of viewing audience, it lived up to its moniker, ‘Trial of the Century.’ Normal broadcasting was just cancelled, to air the court proceedings which had allowed live cameras into the LA courtroom. Judge Ito, the lawyers, the detectives, and witnesses, all became famous whether they wanted to or not. The camera’s eye – which for decades had allowed all of America to become voyeurs in their own living rooms, through regular TV drama’s, soaps, sports, and news – now extended its reach, to enable us to become consumers of a real time drama, based on a former football star, the Juice. Did he do it, or was he set up? Does the bloody glove fit, or was it planted by a racist cop? Is Marcia Clark the smartest woman lawyer ever, or a dowdy disgrace to her gender?
Questions like these – most of them beside the point – baited America, becoming the red meat, served and swallowed. The spectacle gathered us in unison, only to polarize us. I remember watching it like a guilty pleasure. Horrified at myself for not turning it off!
And as Kim and I watched the remake, episode 6, a few nights ago, she suddenly cried out : this was a Reality Show – before we even had reality shows! Now I get it! This is how we got to The Apprentice, and the long bizarre Presidential Primaries!
You probably already figured that out, long ago. But Kim and I never watched any Apprentice, or Lost, or even Dancing with the Stars – well, except once or twice with my mom!
But I think, it’s true, the original trial could be seen as the first Reality Show, long before the genre was ever even created. Whereas, The People vs. O.J. Simpson, from last year, is a reflection of us, The People, a severely conflicted America, one the Kerner Commission back in 1968 called, A Nation Moving Toward Two Societies – Separate and Unequal.
But not only is the legacy of Racism in America unresolved – now on top of it, we have a Press Corp that has gone star-struck, because the media has been bought out by corporate elites with a money-ed agenda, that lives by ratings, first and foremost – by the spectacle of “what bleeds, leads,” and therefore, has largely relinquished its First Amendment task of protecting the truth, and allowing citizens to be properly informed, to better participate in a fair and democratic society. Our news media itself, has become saturated with star studded celebrities, and have fallen victim to those who create Reality Shows – and let’s face it, want to now create reality itself, new fake realities, out of whole cloth!
To the extent that they want to create a new world “out of nothing,” they are the epitome of vanity, aiming, with ingratiating charm, to take the place of the Creator in Genesis, in our hearts and minds!
And this is the kind of unholy ‘authority and power’ that Jesus confronts, in these waning chapters of Matthew. It is here, in chapter 21, that Matthew begins a series of 5 challenges to Jesus as the Messiah. And it all begins when Jesus deliberately comes to Jerusalem – the most visible public space, and seat of Roman power, and the temple elites who collude with them – to meet them head on. Not passively, but with his brand of active non-violence, for all to witness.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, instead of a steed; a humble Messiah, with a parade of people – including his 12 disciples and women followers, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the blind and the lame, and the families come for Passover with their children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” And then, overturning the tables, Jesus disrupts the business of animal sacrifice, and calls for a temple of prayer and praise.
Then he stayed the night at Bethany. But “When Jesus entered the temple,” the next day, our gospel reading begins, “the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you the authority?’”
It’s, Jesus vs. the Temple Elites: Jerusalem Crime Story! And the question is: Who has the exousia, that is, the ‘authority’ or ‘power,’ to define what the Temple will be? Who will the people follow? Jesus, or the Temple Elites?
The keepers of the Temple have carefully guarded their religious and institutional power, to be able to continue to hold on to their authority – deadening their spiritual life, however, through a deadly compromise with the occupying Roman rulers.
And that’s what Jesus challenges, in return. Let me ask you this, Jesus says, “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Either way they answer, they lose, because everyone knows they didn’t believe in John’s authority and power. But the many people who followed Jesus, held John the Baptist in high regard.
You are like the Parable of 2 Sons, Jesus tells them. A man had two sons and told the first to go and work in his vineyard – who grumbles about it, and mumbled a weak, No. But later he changed his mind and did go to work. In the mean time, the parent went to the other son, who was listening on his ear-buds, and told him the same, and the 2nd son nodded his head yes, to his father, but never went!
And the Jerusalem elders choose correctly, for which of the two kids did the right thing - the first. Exactly, Jesus says to them, which is my point about you! Even the sinners and outcasts, who turned around and got baptized by John, and followed me, have been welcomed into the kingdom of God before you, because you have not given up your corrupted privilege and unholy power.
And so, we have a choice, each and every day: to be the people of God, or, the People vs. OJ Simpson! We have a choice to live out our baptismal calling, or follow a false authority and power. The choice itself, does not make us righteous or saved. It only makes us part of, ‘the recovery movement,’ you could say – part of those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and who actually turn around to follow the One who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” It makes us more like the first child, who reacted belligerently, but repented and did go to work in the Vineyard, the kingdom of heaven, and not like the 2nd child who stayed home to watch the Reality Show of guilty pleasures, based on false promises,
Jesus came, “in the form of God,” as St. Paul said, and did not exploit it for his own gain, but self-limited his own power, in order to share it with those who had little or none.
Jesus derives his exousia, his authority and power, from God. Even early on in Matthew, after his Sermon on the Mount, the crowds of people were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having exousia, having authority, and not as their [elites].”
Jesus overcomes the contradictions of our human life, and opens a way for us to become, more free, and more fully human, as God intends.
And so, let us go joyfully into the Vineyard, as Christ’s workers. Let us become the People who choose to follow, “the way, the truth, and the life” that brings pleasure, without guilt, beyond polarization – The true ‘authority’ and ‘power’ of our world and our lives.