“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23 NRSV)
[I opened my sermon by sharing a story about my car battery dying and trying to push the car on my own to move it and the relief that came when other’s came to help me.]
It’s pretty silly to get caught pushing a car up a hill by yourself, when the remedy is to realize you can’t do it on your own and you need help from others. How many of us get caught doing things like this in our lives because we’re trying to be self-sufficient, we want to be successful, we want people to think we’ve got it altogether.
The last thing I want people to think of me as is ordinary or average. Because if I am ordinary or average, I am afraid I won’t be accepted.
How often are we caught pushing cars by ourselves in our spiritual lives? Shoes slipping off, straining far more than necessary, working so much harder than we need to because we don’t want to show any sign of weakness, we don’t want to ask for help, or appear ordinary?
Everything around us – from work, to family, to suburban culture and living right here in Camas – influences us into believing that we must be smart, beautiful, wealthy, live a certain way, show no signs of weakness or failure, if we are to be accepted.
ILL. **Think about how this is passed on to us as children and to our own children. There was an article in the NY Times this past week about “American parents [who] are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.”** -Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Here is an excerpt from the article:
Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same. Google search data also tell us that mothers and fathers are more likely to wonder whether their daughter is “beautiful” or “ugly.”
Parents are one and a half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is, but they are nearly three times more likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.
It’s hard to face this, not only because it does a disservice to everyone but because it’s really destructive. Many of you probably faced these issues growing up as well?
Think about the hidden expectations, let-downs, and experiences for us or our children that constantly builds up certain hurdles they must jump through in order to be acceptable to us, or our society.
We also learn to push cars by ourselves in church. Many of us have had the experience of going to church and learning about about faith that said you aren’t good enough, there’s something fundamentally wrong with you, and you’re going to have to work really hard to be acceptable. Therefore, you must hide who I really am. Or you must change the very core of your being in order to make yourself acceptable.
In these churches to be loved by God is often really hard work. Church is tiresome and work, rather than building into a shared community of love and justice. No wonder there are so many who no longer have interest in church.
Anthony De Mello
…You need understanding, insight, awareness – you don’t need pushing. You don’t need effort. Thats why people are so tired, so weary. You and I were trained to be dissatisfied with ourselves. That’s where the evil comes from psychologically. We’re always dissatisfied, we’re always discontented, we’re always pushing.
What is the an alternative?
Building an Alliance of “Backwards” People
In Matthew 4 we see that Jesus begins his ministry in a place called Galilee. Back then, like now, there were places that were better, more prestigious to be from. Galilee wasn’t one of them. It had a long and sad history of being ravaged by war, of people struggling to survive economically, and being people who weren’t the cream of the crop.
From the way I understand it, Galilee wouldn’t have been voted one of the ten best cities to live in during Jesus’ time. And yet, this is where we find Jesus first.
Matthew makes a point to tell us this 5 times in just a very short section of verses.
Galilee’s reputation was not great, it wasn’t exactly a strategic place to go if you’re trying to build a movement.
Here are three things that will help paint this picture for you (from Richard Horsely):
There was a lot of political movement and potential in Galilee during Jesus’ time. It was underdeveloped and outside the urban epic-center of power when Antipas got to it. So he had little trouble developing it into the normal Roman model – adding security forces, market inspectors, tax collectors, treasury, archives, bringing in new workers through conscription. Antipas was not happy to get Galilee, but he was the last son in the line of six so he got stuck with it.
Galilee was Antipas’ source of income who became very wealthy, while the people there became increasingly indebted and eventually enslaved by the empire because of their debt. In order to get wealthy, Antipas extracted all he could from the people. It is said that he gained large amounts of wealth through intensifying two things: tax collection and conscription of work that came about through the growing debt of the people. 1/3 of the crops given to Antipas, then add this with the tithes to support the priests, first fruit offerings, and donations that had to be made to the temple in Jerusalem and debt was rampant in Galilee during Antipas’ time (Horsely 28). Debt occurred when back weather or other conditions made it so they didn’t have enough to pay the taxes and survive, they would borrow against next year’s harvest.
From a Roman perspective people from Galilee were considered Backward, uncultured frontiers people who had a way of life that had been passed down through generations. One author said that the “inhabitants [of Galilee] are from infancy incurred to war.” (Horsely 24).
What we see in Matthew 4 is that jesus was building an alliance of “backward” people from Galilee (Not actually backward of course, just people who may have been perceived this way). People who were “unacceptable,” people who weren’t particularly smart, or successful, many of who were poor, sick, and unlikely to get picked for reputation for being the best and the brightest.
But we see immediately that this King is not a king of royalty, but a king of the ordinary and the average. These are Jesus’ people, these are his folks whom he is called to, who will become “the church.”
In our passage, we find Jesus teaching, proclaiming and doing healing work “among the people.” Where does Jesus launch his career of ministry, Galilee? Who does Jesus call all the ordinary, everyday people, the beaten up, the dragged down, the wayward, the selfish, the broken people. All you who are shamed and damned, especially those of you who are sure of your imperfections and you are used to not fitting.
Welcome to the alliance of the “backwards.” Or even better, as Pastor Beth Melina calls it the “Fellowship of the Disqualified.”
We, as the church, ought to be the people who – as Darla Samuelson this week – are comfortable with their imperfections on their sleeve.
Darla Shared this quote:
Human beings connect with each other most healingly, most healthily, not on the basis of common strengths, but in the very reality of their shared weakness. Among those who accept their imperfection there seems to be a special sense of likeness or oneness in their very mutual flawedness – in ‘torn-to-pieces-hood’ somehow shared.
Jesus’ work is always “among the people.” It happens among those who know their shared weakness, those who accepted their imperfection. He never puts his nose up at anyone. I’ve never seen a lighting bolts strike when someone walks into a church building.
Instead, he went to those backwards people in Galilee and started teaching them about God’s love, showing them that God loved them, demonstrating God’s grand acceptance of them, telling them that the transformation of the whole would would begin right there in their own backyard, and invited them to be a part of the kingdom of heaven coming to earth.
Looking Inside the Box
Improv guru Patricia Ryan Madson says giving up perfection is about learning that being “average” is good enough, and that we need to learn to “look inside the box,” rather than always “outside the box.”
Giving up on perfection is the first step; the next is to stop trying to come up with something different. Striving for an original idea takes us away from our everyday intelligence, and it can actually block access to the creative process. There is a widespread belief that thinking “outside the box” (some call this the goal of creativity) means going after far-our and unusual ideas. A true understanding of this phrase means seeing what is really obvious, but, up until then, unseen. ‘The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes,’ said Marcel Proust (Improv Wisdom).
Instead of always feeling like we must excel and outdo, pushing that car by ourselves, what would it mean for us to look inside the box, rather than outside? To value what is already there? To welcome the average and the ordinary? To see it as a gift. To build upon it? To embrace it? To allow God to accept us and transform us from right where we stand? So that in accepting our ordinariness we can join with others and push the car together. It doesn’t need to be hard work.
Where has the push for perfection and self-sufficiency gotten in the way of living a fully present, real, and authentic life? What can you learn from reflection on your relationship with your own imperfection?
What does it look like to know that you are accepted and loved by God’s grand acceptance? To accept yourself, imperfections and all? And to accept others in their weaknesses as Jesus did?
What does it mean for you to be invited to join the “Alliance of Backwards People? And the ‘Fellowship of the Disqualified?’”
Photo Credit: Tom Wigley