As I began to think about framing the next post on rejection and acceptance, I thought of lst century Palestine, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day. Then I thought of Jerusalem and the Middle East today. Then I thought of the bombardment of images from a town that is only a twenty minute drive from where I live, Ferguson, Missouri.
The next way of transformation that Paul addresses is rejection to acceptance. Primarily he has taken up this subject because there is the debate raging as to whether or not the Jews were included in the saving actions of Jesus Christ. Paul goes to great length to assure that indeed the Jews remain the chosen people. They are loved by God. God never takes back his gift or revokes his choice. (Romans 11:28-29) The irony is that Jesus was a Jewish man; he was rejected to the point of being executed by the Roman establishment in collusion with the high ranking Jewish priestly aristocracy.
In one of Paul’s many convoluted rationales he says that it was their rejection that made it possible for Jesus to reconcile the whole world to himself, and bring about the deliverance, the transformation from rejected to acceptance for the rest of the Gentile world, to whom Paul felt called to be an apostle. (11:13-16). Because they stumbled, the rest of us are able to be lifted up. He goes on with two marvelous metaphors, comparing the Jews to the first batch of good dough that makes all the dough holy. They are the sacred root of the tree that makes all the branches sacred. It’s good for Christians today to know that our religious roots are in Judaism. To know that no matter what nothing can prevail against Jesus Christ’s acceptance and love for us.
There isn’t any of us who doesn’t know what it is like to be rejected. Turned down from the job. Turned away from the lunch counter. Turned away from a club, a group, an organization because something in our humanness doesn’t conform to the standard held by the powers that be. Rejection is the denial of your very heart and soul. Your very existence. The work of your hands. And it is often the rejection of your life as well. But Paul is telling us that in Christ this rejection has been transformed into acceptance. Acceptance as one sacred, chosen, meant, of value and worth.
Rejection is nothing new to the Jewish people. During Jesus’ lifetime the Jewish people in Judea and Jerusalem were living under the occupation of the Roman military establishment. They were looking for a liberator. Paul quotes Isaiah (27:9) saying a liberator will come from Zion. (11:26). They believed this meant a military leader who would free them from Roman oppression. They wanted another King David who would slay the Goliath of their oppression.
Jesus had another way in mind. Rather than military confrontation he preached peace. This man who included everyone at his table, the wicked, tax collectors (very wicked), non-Jews, women, rejected no one. Jesus saw that being a voice in the wilderness meant you could lose your head. So his chose the way of peace. The way of love. He preached. He had a voice. He spoke out. His way was to stun the oppressors with kindness. Do an end around. Get to the goal, make the kingdom real now in the world, by side stepping violence. Bless your enemies. Feed them. Give them drink. Conquer their evil with good. (12:14-21) Jesus was not naïve. He also told his disciples to take their swords with them as they went out to spread the good news, to do good, just in case they needed to defend themselves. If they were rejected he told them to leave that place, brush the dirt off their feet and move on. Brush the dirt off their feet? Don’t carry their rejection, their dirt, whatever their negativity is, with you.
Faith is difficult. Believing that things can change is difficult. Above is an image of man who held his hands up in surrender; surrender to his oppressors, and because he did he makes it possible for all of us to do what he did: come back to life, live forever, forgive. This is not a touchy-feely platitude. The gospels challenge us. It is ours to bring about the kingdom now. Justice is what is right; what is right is the golden rule of all faiths. To love one another as you love yourself. Love wants what is best for the other as we want what is best for ourselves. And what is best for us is God. Justice is when the way of heaven and the way of the earth converge. When the kingdom, Yahweh’s, G-d’s, Jesus’s, Allah’s, Buddha’s, Mohammed’s way, is lived now.
Sometimes, in the name of religion, we are even told to endure oppression, our reward will be in heaven. I say, I have my reward now. I have Christ. And more importantly he has me.
We can be comforted by the Sermon on the Mount, but after he gave it he came down from the mountain, went to be among the people, to touch and to heal, He even healed the daughter of a Roman centurion.
P.S. I believe it was Karl Barth who said to do theology with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
All the writing, quotes, artwork and photography are the work of the author unless otherwise stated. Scripture readings are from the Jerusalem Bible.
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