Thursday, December 5, 2013

Troubled Spirit and Advent Respite

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
 ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.--Matt 21:23-32

The "grabbing by the Gospel" continues in my world as I put one 
foot in front of the other this Advent, journeying toward that moment 
of Christ's arrival into the world.   It seems last year, I was having 
the most difficult time getting into the season at all.  This year, I'm 
feeling immersed in this sense of great uncertainty.  A good garden 
in which to plant and grow Advent awareness.  For the record, I am 
a lousy gardener, so all the more reason for me to have a sense of 

The quoted passage from Matthew was our Gospel text from yesterday's
Morning Prayer.  I wasn't leading, so I was able to sit in quiet, and 
listen to our presider wend his way through this portion of the story as
Jesus is becoming more and more confrontational in Jerusalem.  I closed 
my eyes and let the words fall like rain upon the garden in my head.  
I am familiar enough with this moment when Jesus' actions are rattling
the cages of the comfortable and religious authorities.  Those cages 
have served them well, and to step beyond their doors would, in their
minds, be their undoing.  They demand to know "by what authority"
he's flipping over tables and releasing doves in the Temple.  "Authority" 
is a big deal to these caged people.  It often is.  Of course, Jesus
puts them inside another cage by the question he puts to them about 
John the Baptizer's baptism.  In fact, they are so locked in that they admit
that they can't answer the question.  

And then comes the part that made me sit up and take notice.  Jesus tells 
the story of the two sons; the one who says he's not going to go
to work, but does anyway, and the one who says he will, and then 
never shows up.  Who's done the better part?  Well, naturally, it's the
first one, his antagonists say.  Then, here it comes:

‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are 
going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came 
to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, 
but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and 
even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and 
believe him. 

My eyes popped open.  I have probably heard this passage a few dozen times
or more in my recent experience, but this time, what came to me was a
phrase from Psalm 51:

The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;
A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The most despised people, outside of maybe the Samaritans, were 
those who collected taxes for the Roman Emperor.  Many of them were
Jews, which made them even more horrible.  Prostitutes, too, were "others"
in that society.  So, here you have the ridiculed and the ostracized, the
perpetual losers in the eyes of the very righteous... and Jesus is basically
saying, "They may be the dregs, but they know they're broken, and they
believed.  But you, my religious friends, are still seeing only the 'authority' 
that prevents you from getting to God."

I have been feeling like one with a troubled spirit.  The other day, I finally 
was able to get through on the government's website.
I have been highly skeptical about what type of coverage I'd be able to get
under the Affordable Care Act.  After so many fill-in-this, choose-this, 
answer this, computer screens, I reached the place where I could see 
the plans and what they would cost.

I could not believe my eyes!  With a tax credit courtesy of the Obama 
administration, there were a number of plans available at less than $80/month.
 That's unheard of, normally!

But no sooner had I finished wiping away tears of joy from the thought that I 
could finally afford insurance, my partner informed me that if we go through 
with a plan to get married next year, our incomes would be combined, and I 
would, therefore, no longer qualify for the tax credit; hence, I'd be denied 
health insurance again because, on paper, I would have too much money.  

Her conclusion?  Don't get married. 

Tears of joy gave way to wailing--and I mean a deep-throated wailing--over 
the continued signs of discrimination in our society.  If we were straight, 
this wouldn't be an issue because she works for the state, and I'd likely
have been on her plan from the beginning and would have no need
for Obamacare.  And, because we live in a state that hates its LGBTQI 
population, there is no way that a state employee, married to their 
spouse of the same gender, can tap into this benefit for their
beloved.  And thus is the life of a queer in the southeastern United

And so, this is the troubled spirit that is meeting the Gospel readings
from Matthew in the morning.  I come with this broken and contrite heart,
filled with bitterness toward a state and a nation...and even a church...
that demands I fit into their "marriage norm" at a huge cost to myself.  
And here Christ meets me in this place and says, "Yeah.  I get it!  Stick with me!"  
This Christ feels my anguish, and reminds me, the "other," that I am part
of a legacy of "others" who have been despised by those of "the norm" 
and yet we are closer to the source of Love.  Does it change the here
and now?  Not in a literal sense, no.  Does it change my reaction to my
here and now so it doesn't dominate me?  Yes, it has the potential to do that.
Does that free my from getting trapped in a cage with those who only want
to know "by whose authority"?  Absolutely!

There is only one light on the Advent wreath, but more candles will be added as a symbol of the growing enlightenment that can happen with Christ's entry into the 
world and into our lives.  May it be so is the eternal hope.

No comments: