“The ‘I want to be more like Jesus’ List”
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23
Colleen D. Hartung
For anybody who watches the show Chopped on the Food Network, you know that when you get an ingredient in you basket like a fully prepared Kobe beef hamburger, you don’t’ have to use the whole thing. You will not be eliminated for failing to use that item as long as you use one part of the fully assembled burger – the bun, the bacon or the coveted Kobe beef patty. In today’s readings, the gospel is probably the Kobe beef patty– and logic would dictate a focus on this iconic scene where Jesus calls and two devoted sons drop their nets and walk away from their beloved father. But … given this week’s events that clearly display the political and social chasms that are dividing our friends and families – including a contentious impeachment trial, the ramping of nastiness between candidates and supporters in the 2020 election and a gun rights rally around the Virginia state house where marchers came heavily armed – it is not the gospel but Paul’s message to the Corinthians that resonates, at least for me.
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people
that there are quarrels among you,
my brothers and sisters.
What I mean is that each of you says,
“I belong to Paul,”
or “I belong to Apollos,”
or “I belong to Cephas,”
or “I belong to Christ.”
Has Christ been divided?
Was [it] Paul [who was] crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
I thank God that I baptized none of you
except Crispus and Gaius,
so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.
(I did baptize also the household of Stephanas;
beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)
For Christ did not send me to baptize
but to proclaim the gospel,
and not with eloquent wisdom,[but] so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
I know a lot of you don’t look at social media, or watch TV or maybe you don’t even read the paper. It is unpleasant and perhaps it is best to abstain. But I do and I can report that my Facebook page is exploding with an unprecedented nastiness born of so much self-righteous certainty about whose faction is right and whose faction is wrong on almost any issue. And these aren’t just secular proclamations – take it or leave it and I’ll see you for coffee in the morning. They are caustic, moral denunciations.
Everyone senses that the stakes are high. And no matter what perspective you take – on the revolutionary left, on the moral majority right or somewhere in the evolutionary middle – there is a claim to a moral high ground that doesn’t just make the other side your opponent but classifies them as ignorant and even evil.
On all sides (at least for those with a religious bent) it’s been popular to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” And everybody seems to know the answer. But, in fact, there is no consensus about what the answer is. The answers vary depending on your political or social perspective. It’s exhausting and frankly the question no longer inspires me. However, last week I saw this meme on the internet. I haven’t picked a New Year’s Resolution this year so it caught my attention. It was scribbled in black magic marker on a plane white piece of paper.
This year I want to be more like Jesus
— Hang out with sinners
–Upset religious people
–Tell stories that make people think
–Choose unpopular friends
–Be kind, loving and merciful
–Take naps on boats
So let’s take a look at the items on the list. The first one – hang out with sinners. That’s easy. I don’t know anyone who isn’t a sinner. Number two – Upset religious people. I am the chair of the international 1000+ Women in Religion Wikipedia Project. I facilitate the Ministry to Families and Children program here at Sunday Assembly and I do homilies. I think I have number two covered. Number three – tell stories that make people think. I am a storyteller by nature. And I do have a story I want to tell. But you will have to be the judge of whether or not it makes you think.
My story has to do with that report to Paul by Chloe’s people that “there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.” I don’t know how the holidays are for any of the rest of you but our extended families, Kent’s and mine, are not politically or socially homogenous. It was a small, holiday gathering, some siblings, a matriarch and some in-laws. The jokes started as soon as we sat down to dinner and I couldn’t not say something. First, I just said, “You know, I’m a black and white and read all over kind of girl” which didn’t do much good. So then I said, “You know, it really is a matter of compassion. Why would we want to tell a joke that is offensive and might hurt somebody’s feelings,” which solicited a comment or two about snowflakes. So finally, I leaned forward and I said, “OK, let’s make this personal. If you tell an offensive joke involving, for instance, a gay person, I guarantee you I will offended.” “Well, we wouldn’t tell it if you were here.” And I said, “If I’m sitting at a bar and you are at the other end of the bar and you tell that joke, you can be certain that I will walk over and I will call you out in public.” And that, finally, was the end of it. Everybody held their breath. And I looked around the table. These were people I was momentarily disgusted with but they were also people I loved. So I took a deep breath, shrugged my shoulders and with a sideways smile, I changed the subject. And when we parted that night, I was embraced, tenderly by more than one person.
So, what would Jesus do? I’d like to say that Jesus would have done what I did. But the truth is, I really don’t know. Because even though the whole thing made me anxious and required courage, I was also pretty certain of my righteousness. The Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel today “went throughout Galilee … proclaiming the good news of the reign of heaven and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. In retrospect, when I think about what Jesus would have done at my family dinner in the context of today’s divided times, I am guessing it would have been something that healed the divisions and the chasms that divided us around that table. It isn’t that I don’t think that I did the politically, socially and even morally correct thing. I do. And I would do it again. Most of us here spend our lives making similar kinds of discernments and acting on them. And we should. But Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is calling us to something more.
Number 5 on my “I want to be more like Jesus” list is “be kind, loving and merciful”. At my holiday dinner, I had challenged the people at the table, called them out, made them uncomfortable and they loved me anyway. Which made me think that maybe, in that moment, they were more like Jesus than I was. In the Gospel of Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story, Jesus continually proclaims an inbreaking reign of God that happens when people repent – literally, in Greek, when we change our minds or change the direction of our lives.
My holiday dinner did not end with my relatives making any of their own righteous claims. They let me have the last word and at the end of the meal they embraced me. And with that embrace, the divide between us, at least in that moment, was healed. And I was changed. I could no longer see them as ignorant or as some kind of threat to the moral order but rather they were my much-loved brothers and sisters. Told in the light of Paul’s admonitions to take care “that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power”, it turns out that this story was never about how we change others by our certain proclamations of what is right and wrong but rather how we are changed by the surprising power of love to heal the divisions among us.
I don’t know if any of my relatives’ social or political positions were change by the whole joke-telling episode. But I do know, that in that moment, love carried the day. Since that day, the political and social storms that shaped that moment continue to rage. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he says, “the message about the cross is foolishness for those who are perishing” – for those whose hope is consumed by the raging storm. But for those who are being saved – who, in the midst of the storm, find hope in acts of love, big and small – the cross is the power of God. The last item on the “I want to be more like Jesus list” is take naps in boats … a reference to Jesus’ calm in the storm. I do want to be more like Jesus this year so this Sunday afternoon, I choose hope, love and a nap.