Reflection: July 15

Published on Jul 16th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

Scripture: Mark 6:14–29

         Did you know that the original meaning of despot referred to “a master of a household,” from the Greek? According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, when the Turks conquered Constantinople and changed the name to Istanbul, a despot was also an Eastern Orthodox bishop or patriarch. Before that, it meant a Byzantine emperor or prince.  It also evolved to refer to an Italian hereditary prince or military leader during the Renaissance.  And then later, via the French language, in the late 1500’s despot came to mean what we think of the word today: a ruler with absolute power and authority and who exercises that authority ruthlessly and tyrannically.

         Mel Brooks tackled some difficult subjects like despotism in his comedy movies.  I’ve seen some of his lampoons; he lampooned Westerns, you may remember, with Blazing Saddles.  And he lampooned Star Trek and the Star Wars movies with the movie Spaceballs.  But he occasionally lampooned politics and despots.  He lampooned Hitler and fascism with the movie The Producers, which starred Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.  It also became a Broadway musical some years ago and starred Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.  Brooks said to Mike Wallace at the time something like, “if you make people laugh at despots, you can bring them down with laughter and ridicule.”  As Brooks and others who’ve tried to portray horrible situations have found, though, sometimes nothing works except the brutal honesty of injustice and human’s inhumanity to humans.

         The passage from Mark today is one of those difficult passages in which we hear of the beheading of John the Baptizer.  Herod ruled despotically in the modern sense of the word.  Even though he respected John in his own strange way, he granted a wish to his niece/step-daughter because of her dancing and callously and casually had John killed.

         In a creative look at this story, Cláudio Carvalhaes, who is a professor of Homiletics and liturgy in Chicago, offered a reflection from the perspective of an immigrant in the US today. In his reflection, he told the story of a 5-year old boy, José, who is from Honduras and is separated from his family; he trekked across Mexico into the US and is living with a foster family in Michigan having been scooped up by the authorities.  He tucks his family pictures under his pillow every night, one a stick-figure drawing of his family in Honduras.  Carvalhaes writes:

I, Cláudio, have a 6-year-old boy and I am an immigrant citizen, foreign and citizen at the same time. I could not read this biblical story of John the Baptist without thinking of stories like José and the loss of his father. To have José separated from his father is like having one’s head cut off. The story told in Mark 6 has no redemption. John the Baptist had his head cut off. That is how hundreds of families are now living, with their heads cut off, parents without children and children without parents.

If John announced the coming of Jesus Christ, these kids and parents announce the horrendous cruelty of the immigration policies of this country. On behalf of these families, we must stand up like John the Baptist, who told the governor of his day: “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18). Just as Jesus came in the footsteps of John the Baptist, we must show up as Jesus Christ to these families.[1]

         One who is standing and showing up as Jesus Christ is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She won in a New York primary and overthrew a mainstream and senior Democrat in Congress.  She’s 28 and won while spending 1/10th of the spending of the incumbent Democrat, Joe Crowley.  George Monbiot, who writes for The Guardian newspaper in England, has written about a group of young people in the US, part of a groundswell of new, progressive thinking that is sweeping the US and elsewhere in the world.  These young people in the States call themselves Justice Democrats.[2]  These are young people who are tired of the traditional left who are part of the establishment.  They stand for environmental justice, ending structural racism, taking gender equality seriously and doing something to help those trapped in terrible housing and low-paying, directionless jobs.  It will be an uphill battle in the US to get into a position to run in elections, but these young people are determined to have a future that is about equality and justice and to have a say in how we get to get to that future.  Amen!

And I say, that’s what we need.  Standing up as Jesus Christ in places of power to speak of the gospel—to be the gospel—that’s where the future lies.  Letting the hope of the Gospel inspire in our acts of love and compassion.  God speaks through the Gospel, and we live it out—we live the Gospel for in the Gospel is life.

         I take hope and solace in the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cláudio Carvalhaes, who aren’t content with the status quo, and who see the possibility and hope for human beings.  We can turn back from militarization and consumerism.  We can redefine who we are as human beings.  We don’t need to be defined by nation-states, by what separates us and that creates the need for military intervention.  We can be defined by sufficiency, by compassion, by love. The gospel demands this of us.  As we have evolved as human beings, it is time for us to stand up against tyranny and despotism and celebrate our common humanity—of all of us—and realize that we are part of the web of life not the apex of it.

         Amen.

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[1]Go to https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3736

[2]Go to https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/11/america-left-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-new-york-primary.

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