Narrative Lectionary Reflection
January 27, 2019
I’ve always been a big fan of the multiverse, that trope in science fiction where we discover that there is not just one reality, but multiple realities. You might be a mild-mannered librarian in one universe and a wild and crazy musician in another. The best example of this is in the Original Series of Star Trek in the episode “Mirror, Mirror.” Captian Kirk, Scotty, Dr. McCoy and Uhura find themselves in an ultimate universe where the benevolent Federation is replaced with the Terran Empire. The Enterprise in this universe is filled with the same people, but they are all brutal and sadistic. Mr. Spock now sports a goatee (which I guess is the true sign of evil). The most recent example is the movie “Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse” where we learn there are several versions of Spiderman in different universes.
Alternate universes, mirror universes, the multiverse tell us something about life; there is more than one way of looking at things. What we see isn’t always the last word.
One of the things that are always off-putting to me is when I hear fellow Christians talk in what I call “Jesus talk.” They talk in a certain way that is trying to show that are holy people following Jesus. I’m not bothered about people talking openly about faith, but I am bothered because the language presents an image of someone that is perfect, someone that is better than anyone else. I may be totally wrong in this feeling, but there is always a sense that “Jesus Talk” folk are always putting on a mask that hides who they are, and never reveals who they really are.
In Matthew 5:1-20, we are introduced to the Sermon on the Mount. The beginning verses are the Beatitudes or Blessings. In some ways, the Beatitudes paint another universe, a universe where we aren’t successful, happy people, but rather people who are not perfect. When Jesus talks about those who are not happy or those who are hopeless, Jesus tells us that God’s Kingdom is one for people who are messed up at times. Jesus paints a world where the down and out, the losers, the imperfect are blessed by God. The last verse of today’s passage is the one the struck me today: Jesus tells the disciples that if their righteousness is not greater than that of the Pharisees, they won’t see the Kingdom of Heaven or God. The Pharisees and scribes were the types that loved to put on a show to tell everyone around them how holy they were. They were the original virtue signallers.
In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and scribes for their shoddy righteousness. He points out that their faith is all for show; and hide their true nature:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Jesus shows a different reality for people; one where we don’t have to pretend to be holy, but to know God accepts us in our lowly state and it is from there that we can change to be the kind of people God wants us to be.
Growing up in the African American church, I heard all the adults in the church being called “Brother so-and-so” and “Sister so-and-so.” As a kid, I was confused. Why were they called brother and sister when they weren’t? It wasn’t until college that I understood. It was not until maybe 50 years ago, that African American adults were no longer called “boy” or by a woman’s first name. As Rev. Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, these names were used to make sure African Americans knew their status in society. The Black church was one of the few places in the world where they were given names of status, of personhood. The Black church created another universe where they were not second-class citizens but viewed as worthy in the eyes of God.
People live in a universe where they are told they need to be successful or right-thinking or show off all the right virtuous signals. May God give us all eyes to see and ears to hear the alternate universe of the Kingdom of God where we are loved no matter what.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.