Drop Keys of Freedom: A Reflection on Luke 20:27-40

Below is a reflection inspired by Saturday’s gospel reading, which can be found here. I shared it at a Celebration of the Word (with Distribution of Holy Communion) that I held as part of my Lay Leadership of Prayer and Preaching class. The whole service had to be video-taped and I have to review it with my professor. Guess who is not looking forward to that part? 😉 
 
golden-key
 

The small person
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners. (Read x2)
– Hafiz

The Sadducees in this story are those small people. They are trying to trap Jesus. Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection. They were a conservative group of Jews whose only source of authority was the Torah, the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, and in that, they saw no evidence of the resurrection. Their worldview was black and white. Their appeal to authority secure. Their confidence, unwavering. The Sadducees were a rather well-off bunch comparatively; they had no need to hope for a resurrection in the same way the majority of the impoverished Jews did.  So they went up to Jesus with their “question.”

While there is some debate in the academic world about whether there are stupid questions or not, there are certainly wrong questions, questions that trap and build cages, questions that are dead-ends. Questions that presume the answers. These questions steal freedom and provide an answer of condemnation in their very asking. The Sadducees ask a wrong question.  It is a ridiculous example based on Jewish law meant to ensnare Jesus.  They want Jesus to crumble and they want to feel secure on their own high horse. They try to build a cage.

And Jesus replies dropping keys of freedom. He meets them right where they are, in all their hubris, appealing only to their source of authority, the Torah, and proclaims that God is the God of the living.  Jesus sees the cage they are building and instead declares freedom and hope for them and for others.  The Sadducees, in their Temple of comfort and luxury, are removed from the suffering of everyday life and their message via their question tries to heap more despair on an already suffering people, but Jesus, who suffers with the people, offers a message of hope and resurrection when it feels like darkness, despair, and division might be the end of the story.

Do we ask the wrong questions? Questions meant to trap and cage? Questions meant to justify our own righteousness? Questions where we’re actually asserting our answer? Often, these questions are judgments in the silence of our minds. We look at a disheveled homeless person on the street and we wonder why they don’t get a job instead of reminding ourselves that we know nothing about the circumstances that led them to this place.  We hear a person goes to Latin Mass or to school at CTU, or CUA, or….. the list goes on and we make assumptive judgments about their “orthodoxy.” Even of the same religion, we assume and then we box each other in.  Or a parent yells at their struggling teenager walking in a few minutes late, “Where have you been?!?!”  Or maybe in our angst and grief, we cry out to God, “what did I do wrong that my loved one had to die?” Or on another dangerous and irrelevant level, we say things like, “What was she wearing?” after an assault is alleged.

These are all variations of the wrong question.

Jesus upends our wrong, dead-end questions and answers with mercy and love and promises of new life to come. He speaks hope for those caught in darkness. He reminds us God is the God of the living, not the dead. These dead-end questions show that life has nothing to do with whether we’re still breathing.

We are alive when we ask questions and don’t presume to know the answer. We drop keys of freedom when we manage our judgments in our mind when we begin to condemn somebody instead of hearing their story. We speak freedom and life when we express genuine interest in the various expressions of our Catholic faith without crying heresy at the first sign of difference. We open room for breathing and surviving our own grief when we move from questions that condemn ourselves in our suffering to words that simply say, “God, I don’t understand and I’m hurting.” What if our first question to our teenagers was “Are you okay?” when they walk in the door, leaving space for their hearts to feel heard. And what if we asked different questions about gender and the role our culture has to play in violations of women instead of considering asking “what was she wearing.”

There may or may not be stupid questions in class, but there are wrong questions in life. Let’s drop keys of freedom by asking questions that are open-ended and give life instead of presumptuous ones meant to condemn. And let’s instead choose to be like Jesus and rather than taking these dead-end questions as personal attacks, turn them around to teach about the infinite mercy and love of our God.

The small person
Builds cages for everyone
He
Knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the
Beautiful
Rowdy
Prisoners.

 

 

 

Trey, the Unacknowledged Prophet: A reflection on Matthew 25: 14-30

This is a reflection that I preached in my Lay Leadership of Prayer and Preaching class this past week, but it is on today’s (Sunday, November 16th) Gospel reading. Maybe it  will invite you to consider a different angle on this common parable?
 

I am a people pleaser. I want people to like me, so my most frequent response to a petition to help with something is… yes, especially when the person asking is a person in authority. I’ve know this about myself, yet sometimes I still catch myself saying “yes” when a more appropriate answer would be, “I’m sorry, I really can’t help with that right now.”  But this is okay, I’m a work in progress, and on my better days, I can accept the grace of still being under construction.

But my people-pleasing ways worry me sometimes, because I worry that if I were in today’s gospel story, I would be more like the first two men, than the third. It might surprise you that I want to be like the third man (let’s call him Trey) since this story is often used as a call to live your vocation and use your talents to the fullest, and Trey doesn’t seem to do that. And the Master, who we presume must be God, gets pretty mad at our third man, Trey, for this.

But what if the Master isn’t God in this story?  That master is pretty angry and greedy anyway. Let’s flip this story on its head. What if Trey is actually the brave hero who has something to teach us? Should we bury our talents too? Depends on what talents are, I guess. Some people probably want me to bury my supposed-talent when I like the song in church and make a joyful noise unto the Lord, much to my neighbor’s dismay! But a talent in Jesus’ time is not a characteristic, or a gift. It was an amount of money or a weighed measurement worth a large sum, as we can tell by the way it can be traded and invested for more.

So maybe this is actually a story about money, about greed, and about a prophet I’m calling Trey.

You see, in their time and place, there was no stock market. You couldn’t just invest $500, and magically get $500 more (at least that’s how the stock market seems to work to me when it’s not a recession). No, if you got $500 more using your original $500, that means someone else, was $500 poorer. It was a limited system of scarcity. Trey decided his master’s request wasn’t acceptable. The master was asking Trey to make money off of his already-poor neighbors.

Trey had a choice. Would he be a people-pleaser and cooperate with a master who self-admits to greed and unjust practices? Would Trey exploit others on his master’s behalf? Or would he stand up for what was right and risk suffering for his decision?

This is why I want to be like Trey—Trey, who is the lowest of the servants, the one given the least amount of money, the one said to be the least capable—because Trey recognized exploitation and had the courage to stand against it.  He decided not to be a people pleaser and he refused to cooperate with greed. And then he paid the price. He suffered for risking and standing up to corruption.

We are called to be bold and prophetic like Trey. To not immediately say yes to everything that is asked of us, before we have discerned its value. We are called to courageously risk ourselves to not cooperate with injustice and greed. Sometimes this will mean suffering for our resistance. Maybe we choose not to shop at stores where products are made from child labor. It may cost more and ask us to cut back on our spending in other ways. Sometimes it could mean not going along with it at work when your boss wants to fudge some numbers and you’re expected to look the other way, no questions asked. Speaking up could have very real consequences, like it did for Trey, but to this, with appropriate discernment, we are called.

I’ve heard it said that courage means to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart. When we have courage to stand up prophetically against injustice like Trey, we tell the story of who we are, who we are called to be…. with our whole hearts. Hearts that are moved by love and not by people-pleasing. Hearts that choose justice over greed. Hearts that support those like Trey who face consequences for speaking up. Hearts that are full of gratitude for what we have instead of constantly striving for more than we need. Let’s be like Trey and with our prophetic actions, tell the story of who we are with our whole hearts.