Thursday, June 22, 2017

What Do They Call Us?


Jesus says, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!" Well, what are they calling us now?

Sunday's gospel lesson is Matthew 10:24-39. I've written a few times this week about how easy it is to get caught up in the dramatic (note that I don't think he's being hyperbolic) words of Jesus about a son rising up against his father and a daughter rising up against her mother. I do think that's what Jesus meant, but I think that kind of internal family strife isn't the nature of God's kingdom but the nature of the response of earthly institutions to that kingdom. This isn't a passage about conflict. It's a passage about the proclamation of the kingdom that will inevitably result in conflict. When we proclaim from the housetops what Jesus whispered to his disciples, we're going to ruffle some feathers...or at least we should expect it to ruffle some feathers.

Sometimes Jesus was provocative for the sake of being provocative, but here I don't think he's telling us that the key to the kingdom of heaven is to cause trouble. Still, I think it's a safe measure of our proclamation of the gospel. If people aren't whispering about us behind our backs... If people aren't ignoring our phone calls... If people haven't permanently hidden our posts on Facebook... If people haven't stopped inviting us to dinner parties... If the members of our extended family don't steer clear of religion and politics when we're around...then we're not proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

I'm in the middle of a three-week stretch at the School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee, where I'm taking classes in the STM program. Every day, I take two classes in the same room, and, whenever I walk out of the door to that classroom, I am greeted by a bright yellow poster that is hung on the office door across the hall. On that poster in big purple letters is a quotation from Hélder Câmara, the late Roman Catholic archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil. For years, I've been noticing that poster, and I still can't help but see it fresh each day. That poster looks like this.

 
If they call the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household? The most faithful, most religious people of Jesus' day heard his message and called him a zealot, a liberal, a rabble-rouser, a traitor, a sinner. What would we expect them to call us?
 
What are the labels that we're afraid of having affixed to us by friends, family, parishioners, colleagues, coworkers, members of other churches, members of our own church? If we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, what will we risk being called? A liberal? A goody-goody? A religious nut? A communist? Intolerant? Idealistic? Foolish? These aren't our words that we proclaim. They are Christ's. They belong to the Word of God. When we shout them from the rooftops, will they say that we are against the church? Will they say that we are working against God? Even the most faithful among them said it of Jesus himself. What will they say about us? And are we truly proclaiming the gospel if they're saying nothing at all?

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