Tag Archives: Jesus Social Egalitarian

Listening to Other Voices

If only Jesus of Nazareth had a Twitter or Facebook account, he would have had so many more followers! I jest, of course; self-promotion, while not a modern invention, has reached a fevered pitch in the social media saturated twenty-first century.jesus twitter

Jesus did call upon many to follow him, but on occasion he also practiced something with which the human family has always struggled: listening to other voices.

Mark’s gospel – chapter 7 – tells of Jesus travelling to the foreign city of Tyre, four to five days walking distance to the north and west of Jerusalem. Presumably, Jesus travels to reach out to Jews living there. A woman, decidedly not Jewish, with a sick daughter engages Jesus. Desperate to the point of trespassing convention – women were not to address men in public – she wants Jesus to heal her daughter. He puts her off by saying that he has only come to serve and seek Israelites: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Not only was this an insensitive comment, it was arguably a racial insult.

The Syrophoenician woman, however, doesn’t flinch. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus, as if slapped in the face, acquiesces. He tells the woman to return to her daughter; she does and finds her daughter restored to health.

We assume that Jesus had everything figured out at the commencement of his public ministry, and that consequently he needed no further social or theological development. Listening to the voice of this foreign woman, however, Jesus had to reshape – in an instant – some of his understandings. She wasn’t a dog but a full member of the human family; and, God’s mission extended even to her.

Jesus was a committed social egalitarian before this encounter with the unnamed foreign woman; he became a stronger one after the encounter. A social egalitarian is a person who understands all others – those similar and those different – as equals in God’s eyes. Because of this conviction, Jesus spoke and interacted with all sorts of people: religious leaders, the well-to-do and powerful, the sick and excluded, common folks, women, children, and, yes, foreigners. Rarely did he exclude others.

Those who follow Jesus today – not on Twitter or Facebook – do best to heed his example of social egalitarianism, listening to the other and regarding the other as equal in God’s purview. It’s intriguing that in the twenty-first century world with myriad media for communication and connection, we still don’t know one another all that well within the human family. We yet rely on stereotypes and innuendo in our attempts to understand the neighbor who is different. These weak attempts at understanding contribute to many of the problems – from the inability of Congress to enact immigration reform to police brutality and the targeting of police – besetting our society.

We hear it said today that black lives matter. Absolutely they do, just as the lives of widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners matter according to the divine language of the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. A good question for my fellow white readers who are Christian: Would you have the same type of worldview and outlook you currently claim if you had been born black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim?

A worthy goal in today’s modern age is to have a worldview and outlook that incorporates the wisdom of other voices. Authenticity requires being true to one’s own experiences. It also requires the responsibility of listening to others’ experiences. If your experience is the only one that matters, trumping all others, most likely you’re nothing more than a self-promoter.

Much more often than not, spending face and ear time with someone who offers a different perspective than your own makes the world a better place. In today’s America that suffers of too many hot spots of polarization, listening to other voices is difficult but necessary positive social action. Democrats and Republicans, gun owners and non-gun owners, rich and poor, blacks and whites, atheists and religious partisans, folks living in zip code A and folks living in zip code B – what would it be like to talk with and listen to one another rather than talk about others in negative tones and stereotypes?

Social egalitarianism – it sounds like a political party. Rather, it’s a spiritual commitment utilizing the gift of other voices that has the ability to improve our politics and common life. It’s truly what the one human family needs now.

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

 

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Jesus 2016 – Social Egalitarian Party

The Donald leads, but is not a lock, on the Republican side of the presidential primaries. Hillary boasts similar standing on the Democratic side. What if Jesus were running for highest office in the free world?

Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke not only for his fellow disciples, but for the early church. His answer “Messiah” – God’s chosen one – has stood firm for two millennia. jesus politico

Jesus’s question hasn’t gone away. I answer it today like this: “Jesus, you are my social egalitarian Lord.”

Granted, social egalitarian sounds a bit silly. It’s about as silly as Jesus running for POTUS.

Bear with me, however, and let me unpack the phrase social egalitarian. Egalitarian is a biblical concept, as exemplified in Exodus 5 – “let my people go” – and Galatians 3 – “for you are all one in Christ.” Both the American and French revolutions were fueled by the concept. The word itself has been in use for some 150 years; its root is the French egal (equal), yet it goes beyond equal quantities, measurements, or values to a deeper reality. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of specific inequality—dominance-subordination. Egalitarianism is political in nature: a group or commu­nity engaged in the struggle of self-determination within the larger community or with a competing community seeks, at­tains, and maintains a balance or equity with its competitor. The spirit of egalitarianism opposes unfair advantages; it’s biblical and American to the core.

As for the social aspect of the phrase, we remember that Jesus was pretty good at spending time with all sorts of folks. He spent face time with religious leaders, the outcast, the well-to-do, the sick, the connected, the lame. He also spent time, oftentimes shocking his own disciples, with women and children. Additionally, while travelling, Jesus led his disciples through foreign territories. This was untypical behavior; Jesus’s disciples were accustomed to avoiding certain foreign areas and peoples.

While traversing boundary lands in Mark 7, Jesus and his disciples are confronted by a foreigner – a Syrophoenician woman. She knows something about Jesus and wants him to heal her daughter. Jesus shows typical human behavior in this encounter; he tries to put her off. He seems to know enough about her – that she is a foreigner.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The dogs? That’s blatantly derogatory. This time, at least, Jesus’s reaction to a foreigner is no different than that of his disciples.

“But even the dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs that fall.”

It’s as if she says to him: If you are who they say you are, you need to pick your game up.

And he does pick up his game. “Woman, be on your way. The demon has left your daughter.”

Jesus was human. We tend to see Jesus as having an ever-present halo hovering over his head, indicating his perfect behavior and all-knowingness in all things. But that’s unrealistic and it’s not true to Scripture. To be human is to be limited. Like the rest of us, Jesus had to go through processes and experiences in order to learn and better understand the world and its peoples. This woman showed him something that he needed to learn. He was an advanced social egalitarian before this encounter with the woman; after the encounter, even more so.

To be a social egalitarian in American society today is to traverse boldly against the grain. It is to spend face time with those who are “other” rather than only interacting with those who look, think, and value similar to “us.” American society is highly segregated – perhaps not as racially segregated as in previous eras, but certainly so in terms of socio-economic differences. Unquestionably, wealth is a blessing and (more often than not) a reward for hard and smart work. Wealth can serve as a bubble, however, isolating well-off Americans from other Americans – those who work for minimal wages, have little or no health insurance, and/or struggle under debilitating circumstances.

Do you know anyone – on a friendship level – who lives in poverty? Or anyone who speaks English as a second or third language? Or anyone who practices a different religion than yours?

Politicians – regardless of party affiliation – who negatively stereotype “other people” (including immigrants) are not worthy of the highest office in the land. This society doesn’t need more separation into “us and them,” it needs more interaction between its inhabitants. This society is the world’s richest in terms of diversity, experience, and capabilities. It’s time for us to delve deeper to see where we can trust one another. Fear of the “other” might be good enough to win a party nomination, but it won’t do much good for the society as a whole.

Even Jesus didn’t want to have to deal with a woman who wasn’t part of his regular community. But as she confronted him, he stopped. He looked into her face and into her eyes – and was changed. This is the spirit of social egalitarianism. It is to encounter the other as an equal in God’s eyes and to act upon that conviction.

Jesus, my social egalitarian Lord. This is the one I will follow.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

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