Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blinders

Blinders
Lk. 12:49-56[1]
  Most of us have some type of blinders that keep us from seeing the real world around us.  We may not want to admit it.  We may prefer to think that we have our eyes wide open, that we have a realistic appraisal of life, and we are not hiding from any aspect of the truth.  But, truth be told, we all have on some kind of blinders.  It’s an unavoidable aspect of being human.  We interpret the world around us through the lens of our own experience.  Factors of race, gender, class, education, and even location profoundly affect the way we understand our world.  And they also determine what we see and what we don’t see.
  The problem with this arises when the majority of us look at things from a certain perspective, which means that there are aspects of life that we choose not to see.  Perhaps we choose to ignore them.  It’s incredibly difficult for those who have never had to wonder where our next meal is coming from to understand what it’s like to live in poverty.  It’s much more comfortable for us to just to close our eyes to the poverty around us.  It’s incredibly difficult for those of us who came from families where education was not optional to understand the reality that for many people who live around us, education is not an option.  And that means they have no means to lift themselves out of poverty.  But again, what we don’t understand, we prefer to just ignore.  We are comfortable with what our blinders allow us not to see.[2]
  I think this has a lot to do with our Gospel lesson for today.  It’s a text that forces us outside our comfort zones and makes us take off our blinders.  Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Lk. 12:51).  It’s a shocking statement.  We’re used to hearing the angel’s Christmas song about “peace on earth” (Lk. 2:14).  We tend to forget that at his dedication, Simeon told his parents that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” (Lk. 2:34). Our Gospel lesson for today seems to throw our views about Jesus and his mission into question.  How can Jesus be the one to bring peace and at the same time the one who brings division?
  Some will say that Jesus really didn’t come to bring peace at all.  They quote Matthew’s version of our lesson for today, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).  And they relate that to the fact that many in Jesus’ day sought to overthrow their Roman oppressors by violence.[3]  They conclude that the “real Jesus” advocated violently overthrowing the system of injustice that oppressed so many in his day. 
That the economic, social, political, and religious system of Jesus’ day oppressed the majority of people is beyond question.  However, if Jesus advocated violent revolution, why did he enter Jerusalem humbly mounted on a donkey instead of riding a magnificent horse?  If Jesus expected his disciples to take up arms against their oppressors, why did he rebuke Peter for doing just that (Mt. 26:52)?[4]  If the “real Jesus” really wanted to overthrow the system of injustice that oppressed so many in his day, why did he allow himself to be crucified?  It doesn’t make sense.
  So what business did a Messiah who was going to sacrifice his life on the cross have talking about bringing division?  It seems to me that, while Jesus did not advocate overthrowing the unjust systems of his day, he did not shy away from exposing their injustice.  He told parables that pointed out how the religious leaders had enriched themselves at the expense of the people, in direct violation of the Torah they claimed to uphold.  He pointedly confronted them for abandoning the commandments of God when it was convenient, and yet insisting on keeping the letter of the Law when it suited them.  Jesus didn’t refrain from directly confronting the “powers that be” of his day.[5] 
  When anyone has the nerve to look at the way things are and say, “this isn’t right,” it has an unavoidable effect: it divides people.  Those who benefit from the status quo will fight tooth and nail to oppose anyone who tries to change things.  And they will adamantly keep their blinders firmly in place to avoid having to see the reality of injustice.  It seems to me that’s the kind of division Jesus was talking about.  He didn’t retreat from the Gospel of peace; he just realized that the cost of peace is justice.[6]  And he warned his disciples that they would face opposition if they followed him in advocating that kind of peace.
  So what does all this mean for us? Well, I think Jesus summed it up pretty well when he insisted that the people who gathered to hear him teach pay attention to more than just the weather.  He insisted that they take their own blinders off so they could see that things were not the way God intended.  I think that’s at least a place for us to start.  Whatever our background, whatever our place in life, Jesus challenges us all to take off our blinders and at least see the injustice, the poverty, and the suffering that is so prevalent all around us.[7]  Make no mistake: we are surrounded by hurting people.  And the first step toward doing something about it is to take a long, hard look at their suffering by removing the blinders that keep us comfortable.



[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 8/18/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Ironically, many in our day have made the accusation of “class warfare” against those who would expose injustice. Warren Buffet has said in response, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” See Ben Stein, “In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning,” The New York Times,  Nov 26, 2006; at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/business/ yourmoney/26every.html?_r=0.
[3] Cf. Ulrich Luz, Matthew: A Commentary, 109, where he traces this view (in the context of Matthew’s version) back to Hermann Reimarus’ Fragments, published posthumously ca.. 1774-76.
[4] There Jesus says, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword,” which seems to fly in the face of  our lesson for today.  The mainstream of New Testament scholarship agrees that “Jesus did not come to bring to the earth a political rebellion against Rome” (cf. Luz, Matthew, 111).  See also J. A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 994-95; R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke,” New Interpreters Bible IX:266-67.
[5] Cf. Fred Craddock,  Luke, 166: “God is so acting toward the world in Jesus of Nazareth that a crisis is created ... . Peace in the sense of status quo is now disrupted.”  Cf. similarly Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 995; Culpepper, “Gospel of Luke,” NIB IX:266-67.   Cf. also Luz, Matthew, 112, where he says, “The message of ultimate peace, of the reversal of secular rule, and of the love of God for the underprivileged has a political dimension and evokes the resistance of all those who defend power and privileges.”
[6] Cf. Karl Barth, 3.2:60-61: “This is the division made, the fire kindled, when He comes to fulfill the Law and the prophets and to give His life for many. But the real purpose of His coming is not attained with this division. ... Human roles are radically reversed when He comes. The first shall be last and the last first. But this is not the essential aim of His coming. ... That Jesus comes to bring about the ruin of any man is a thought which is wholly foreign to the New Testament.”
[7] Cf. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 1000, where he says that Jesus calls them hypocrites because “their problem is much more an unwillingness to interpret than an inability.”  Cf. also Craddock, Luke, 166-67.

5 comments:

Jeff Nagorny said...

Alan: I thank you for your wonderful commentary on this text. I had decided to preach on it, and had a general idea of what the sermon's focus would be, but you're words guided me to the message I had somewhere in the back of my mind. I enjoy your blog often, but especially thank you for this week's offering. Amen!

Pastor Jeff Nagorny
West Chester, PA

William Schlesinger said...

the irony is that Jesus didn't just take on the 'establishment,' - Roman leadership - but also the 'anti-establishment' - the Pharisees who opposed them in the name of 'pure Judaism.' Division was among both elements in moving towards a transparent and compassionate perspective from domination and scapegoating by both sides of the political debate.

Alan Brehm said...

Thanks, Jeff! I'm glad you found it helpful.

Alan Brehm said...

From my perspective, I would say both were part of the "powers" that benefited from the status quo.

Alan Brehm said...

From my perspective, I would say both were part of the "powers" that benefited from the status quo.