Daniel Berrigan, Squirrels and the Suffering Servant: Proper 23A
There are times when I read the Gospel--proclaiming the good news of God from the midst of the people--and my overwhelming desire is to be reading SOMETHING else.
There are beautiful passages in scripture. Love of neighbor, love of God. There is poetry and prose, metaphor and miracle...
Then there is this, this passage from Matthew that has preachers throughout the country doing exegetical backbends to try to get around a text that seems so contrary to our fundamental understanding of a God of inclusion and love, a God of redemption and calling.
The Girardian theologians, who are committed to reading non-violence in the text, suggest the preacher consider the joke, “when is a squirrel just a squirrel”--a pastor in preaching a children’s sermon holds up a stuffed squirrel and asks the children what it is...after a long pause, one of the children says “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but that sure looks like a squirrel to me”. So, when the text describes a king, we think the answer is supposed to be “God” but it’s not...
The Girardians suggest that what we hear described in this Gospel is not actually a story about the nature of God. That this is not allegory, and that what we have here is a description of the actions of a human king--specifically suggesting that the Greek which introduces this parable refers to “anthropos”, a man, rather than God. So, if a MAN is the king, what does it say to us about where we find Jesus in this text?
It was at this point in my research that I considered Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem...the hosannas that became cries of crucify him...
And, I wonder what happens to this Gospel if we understand the king as human, and the man cast out as Christ?
As a college student I spent three months living and working with an intentional community called Agape, a community dedicated to living and teaching Christian non-violence. It was at Agape that I had the privilege of meeting the Reverend Daniel Berrigan, a poet, activist, priest known for acts of civil disobedience. Daniel in a sermon on this text writes that, “The parable of the king’s banquet is brutally secular. It tells of the domestic misbehavior of the powerful and the victimizing of the powerless, of war and retaliation.”
Do our human understandings of inclusion end up excluding and destroying the very one we have called upon? The very one we are, ourselves, called to serve?
If the kingdom of heaven is to be compared...Daniel Berrigan reminds us that compare means to find those things alike and those things which stand in stark opposition.
Does the ease with which we identify the king as God demonstrate far more about who we are and our own understanding of what power means than it does about God?
I would hazard, yes. Just as last week we may have found ourselves nodding along to the Pharisees answer that the vineyard owner would be justified in destroying those who destroyed his son--this week we may find ourselves accepting that ruthless violence of a capricious king, because it makes sense based on our understanding of what human rulers do.
But, let us remind ourselves, we serve a God and not a king...a God whose own son was cast out from the banquet, a God who suffered for our silence, a God placed upon the cross with our cries of crucify.
the Reverend Daniel Berrigan writes,
“In the parable Jesus presents to us the king. You choose, you decide. Is this a valid exercise of authority? Here is a clue: Don’t miss the storyteller for the story.
The One who tells the story knows both goodness and wickedness, because He is good, consistent and compassionate. He longs to see humans standing in the orbit of God’s love. He rejoices to see the speechless and poor, the nobodies, at His table.
In our story, he condemns no one, not even the king. Such a judgment is redundant, the royal behavior being self-condemned.
And to sum up matters, in utter contrast to the worldly king, the storyteller will give His life rather than take life.”
Give rather than take...our faith is redolent with those who have given rather than taken lives. We call them martyrs, when they die, award them Nobel Peace Prizes when they live. Advocates for justice, equality, for love and mercy.
Last week, my sermon asked us to remember who we are, the beloved children of God, and to whom we belong...
And, I made the argument that we belong to God, but we also belong to each other.
So, if a martyr is one who dies rather than renounce their faith...if our faith teaches us that we belong to God and each other, the idea of martyr is broken open and I am reminded of those who choose suffering, rather than renounce God or their fellow human beings.
“the storyteller will give His life rather than take life”.
The storyteller who is Christ. The storyteller who stands at the heart of the Gospel. The storyteller who has the last word even as he breathes his last.
The storyteller whose story is now OUR story.
Now, will we be silent, or will we keep telling the story of a God of love? A God who invites each and every one of us to the table of Grace. A God apart from our petty powers and principalities. A God, who we describe as lover of souls. A God of invitation. The God in whom we can, as Paul implores us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone...And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”