Second Sunday after Epiphany
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
These days our problems in the US seem endemic and intractable: the scars of war, trillions of dollars in deficits, violence in our cities, struggling schools, families falling apart, looming environmental catastrophe. But, like clockwork, every four years, The Great One comes to us like a gift from heaven. Next week we inaugurate a new president.
We had such high hopes for our last president. He was good looking, cool, smart. He had a beautiful family. He read books. He shot threes. He spoke in complete sentences. He was black and white and African and Indonesian and American. He was Kansas and Chicago. He was Yale and Harvard and the University of Chicago. He was Christian. He was Muslim—well, it turns out he wasn’t Muslim after all.
We pinned high hopes on him. We hoped he might save the economy, restore our moral standing in the world, end wars, rebuild the ozone layer, move us past partisan politics. He was change we could believe in.
And this week another Great One steps forward. We have never seen anything quite like this guy. He says he isn’t a politician. He says he is a straight talker, a tough negotiator, the only person who can cure the nation’s ills. He says he will run the country like a business: bring manufacturing back from overseas, save the coal industry, rebuild the economy, lower taxes. He says he will drain the swamp. He says he will lock her up. He says he will build the wall and “make them pay for it.” He says he will destroy ISIS. And deport illegal immigrants. And end Obamacare. He says he will make America great again.
It’s weird the way we expect these leaders to solve all these problems. Maybe it is because the rest of us seem to be shooting blanks—we are out of answers on big issues like the economy, racial tension, building world peace or better relations with our neighbors across the tracks. And so every four years, a new President gives us this big blank canvas. And on this canvas we scribble out all our problems, and peg this new leader as the next great hope who can provide solutions.
This week’s gospel speaks about people who had high expectations for a rising leader. John the Baptist thought this Jesus guy was the One…the Coming One…the Lamb of God…The Son of God…The Messiah. But a year or so later, John the Baptist got wobbly and doubtful when the Messiah didn’t act like John thought Messiahs were supposed to act. From prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus with questions: “Hey, I thought you were the Son of God. Why aren’t you Son-of-Godding? Why aren’t you thumping our enemies? Why am I still in jail?”
Andrew was filling out his blank canvas when he told his brother: “We’ve found the Messiah!” He brought Peter to meet the hot shot rabbi. Andrew and Peter and Nathanael all had ideas about the kind of leader God would send to save them. It took about three years of following Jesus as he walked with the poor, healed the sick, disavowed riches, rejected the myth of redemptive violence, looked out for the little guy, shunned power and prestige, and finally laid down his life down for his friends before these disciples began to get a sense of “what kind of Messiah” Jesus was.
Christians still look for political Messiahs. Every four years we drink the Kool-Aid. Every four years we are ready to believe that somehow this time things will be different. But this week’s gospel teaches us that the only way we can get over our blindness and see what God’s answers to the problems of our world might look like is to follow Jesus home and stick close to him with eyes and ears wide open.
This coming week many Americans await the next big thing. Many will pledge allegiance to a new leader’s vision of the future. God asks us to find our citizenship and our marching orders by sticking close to Jesus. Find him in the Word. Stay close to him where the people of God gather. Listen for his voice as you pray. Remain with him at the Table, where bread and wine are poured out, where the towel of service waits. Stick with Jesus as he teaches us that violence is never a real answer, that might does not make right, that money makes a poor foundation on which we can build our lives.
Just as Jesus took those first disciples under his wing to teach them what kind of a society the Messiah came to create, so he takes us under his wing to teach us important lessons that we cannot learn at the national altar. Pledge allegiance to Jesus’ kingdom vision.
Image: Front cover of Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Totem Rituals and the American Flag by Carolyn Marvin and David W. Ingle