The Conversations We Do and Do Not Have

Luke 9: 37-56
November 5, 2017
Mary Hammond
      There is a great paradigm shift occurring around the planet, with strong forces arrayed against it. On the one hand, planetary survival is calling for a greater sense of connectedness among human beings, plant, and animal species–among the whole Community of Creation. On the other hand, tribal loyalties and ethno-nationalisms are fomenting a violent backlash against efforts to acknowledge our global interdependence.
   Jesus also lives during a time of enormous transition amid an expansive, overbearing Empire. Populations are restive and movements of insurrection common. State and religious authorities collude with one another, trading favors, and the poorest of the poor always get the shortest end of the stick.
   One day, as a crowd gathers, a father begs Jesus’ disciples to heal his son, overtaken with violent seizures. They cannot do it, and Jesus is called upon to perform the healing. After he releases the boy from his torment, the crowds are overcome with amazement and awe. They praise God and exalt the works of Jesus. But the Teacher’s mind is elsewhere. Jesus abruptly changes the course of the conversation away from the healing, away from crowd’s acclamation, onto his own trek toward Jerusalem, the capital city of his Jewish faith. This is all captured in one breathless sequence by the storyteller, Luke:
      While they continued to stand around exclaiming over all the
   things he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Treasure and
   ponder each of these next words: The Son of Man is about to be
   betrayed into human hands.”
      They didn’t get what he was saying. It was like he was speaking
   a foreign language and they couldn’t make heads or tails of it. But
   they were embarrassed to ask him what he meant.
   The disciples expect Jesus to commence a military campaign to overthrow the Roman occupation when they reach Jerusalem. They cannot imagine, what alone comprehend, what he is talking about. They don’t get it, and they can’t get it. The truth is hidden from their sight, because their paradigms are solidly fixed in one place and not easily dislodged.
   It takes Pentecost, the persecutions of the early church, the entrance of the Gentiles into the Jesus movement…It takes all the conflicts recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul and much more…to slowly, painstakingly dislodge the old paradigms from the minds of Jesus’ followers. It is quite a story, read this way.
   What do human beings do when there is no room in our psyches for new information, for new ways of seeing? We ignore. We deny. We obscure. We rationalize. We double-down.
   But we can do something else. We can acknowledge our ignorance. We can challenge our assumptions. We can embark on a personal learning spree. We can boldly ask questions. We can listen to different perspectives. We can re-write the script.
   There is so much we can do. Yet, what do Jesus’ disciples do, after he makes this statement and request?
   They do nothing. Luke indicates that “…they were embarrassed to ask Jesus what he meant.” They are afraid of exposing what they do not know. The safer option is silence, but this kind of silence never transforms.
   The unflinching paradigm of the warrior Jesus victorious over the Romans has a secondary feature. The inner circle of any warrior or king holds a very privileged place, and these disciples understand themselves as that inner circle. When the paradigm is power, what follows is competition.
   Immediately, the Twelve start arguing about which of them is the greatest. Jesus puts a child in their midst and explains that the least are the greatest. In the next scene, one of the disciples expresses pride at prohibiting someone from another group from performing miracles. Jesus tells him not to stop this man, that those not against them are for them. Shortly after this, James and John suggest raining fire down on Samaria for refusing hospitality to the group on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus rebukes them.
   Do you see the connections here? Scene upon scene exposes the tribalism, exclusionary behavior, and violence that accompany the paradigm of the disciples as they tally who is up and who is down, who is in and who is out.
   So let’s try flipping the script of the earlier interaction between Jesus and the disciples and see what happens. When I have a bad dream so vivid that I remember the details, it nearly always ends with me waking up, conflicted and frozen in either fear or indecision. So, sometimes, I journal the dream, then re-write the turning points in it, or brainstorm different endings. Someday, I hope I will do this in my unconscious, dreaming moments. Meanwhile, it helps my conscious self to practice this exercise.
   Let’s imagine for a moment that the Twelve really do stop and ponder the radical paradigm shift Jesus warns is about to occur. He is going to be betrayed into human hands. He asks them to reflect on this. Let’s imagine for a moment that the Twelve respond something like this: “Whoa, Jesus! Betrayal? No way! Not part of our script! We are your rear guard! We will bring our weapons! We will protect you! We’ll keep this from happening!”
   That does sound like the Twelve. But getting a little more personal and vulnerable, what if they added, “But, we do love you, Jesus, and we don’t understand what you are saying. Can you help us see?”
   They could have even protested with their bluster and sense of being Jesus’ Security Force at the moment, but slept on his words and come back to ask for more detail and information. I’m rarely good “on my feet,” but I’m always glad when a second chance occurs to right my missteps.
   It would be transformational, if the Twelve responded blasted through their denial either that day or subsequent days! It sounds rather fantastic, even, and does not happen in this text, or any time soon after. But this is a good exercise in imagination for us, and an important reminder that we have in our power the opportunity to be vulnerable and courageous, to admit our ignorance and open up to new understanding, sooner or later.
   I do not think flipping the script would have altered the events that transpired for Jesus, but it could very well have changed the support he had from his disciples the last week of his life. Imagine that!
   We, here in the 21st century, have countless opportunities to flip our scripts. In all of our recent conversations on whiteness and systemic racism, many of us who are white here at church and in the community are taking crucial steps to better apprehend the insidious, pervasive impact of white supremacy from our nation’s founding to the current day. This is a visible and present reality that people of color in this country face, every single day. As we do this critical work, old paradigms break loose and begin to fall away. Transformation happens before our own eyes and in our own lives. Like the disciples over the long haul, we, too, are being changed.
   This is the work that is before us in so many different areas and in remarkably varied ways—flipping our scripts, holding vulnerable and sometimes difficult conversations together, speaking and acting courageously for the sake of the common good in keeping with the dreams of God.
   May the Holy One move us forward, as old paradigms continue dissipating while the fierce, purifying wind of the Spirit blows, upending their power by grace. Amen.