Numbers 11: 25-29; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 38-48
What a crazy week. Just when you think things can’t get any crazier we find a new way as we continue this reality TV program that we’re all a part of. The week started with the conviction of Bill Cosby. I can’t imagine being in my 80s and now having to spend the rest of my life in prison, and for what. Of course, as the week continued we found ourselves glued to the television again for the Supreme Court hearings. I’m not convinced, though, just how much hearing and listening actually went on in that room. I’m not sure you can say you’re open to hearing the other when your mind is made up and judgment has already been cast. There was one thing that struck me, though, from the press conference following the conviction of Cosby that I believe transcends much of reality TV. I believe it was the prosecutor who simply said, “This was a man who hid behind his character.”
All of know that character. He was America’s dad. He was funny and loving. If you didn’t have the best family life he somehow showed the ideal parent and family through his character. Yet, now we see how hard it is for us to reconcile the character from the real deal and the trauma that he was inflicting upon women. All too often we prefer the character to the real deal because of what it so often offers us in return. If you’ve listened to the reading from James the past few weeks, especially today, he has laid it on thick. These characters become a source of two things for James, power and wealth. The two most ardent of idols, jealous of all the rest and have a way of taking hold of our lives, and more often than not at the expense of those we have deemed less than ourselves, the powerless. When they team up, watch out. James warns that they will lead to the impending doom of humanity when the real God is abandoned and these idols take center stage.
Center stage is where they continue to take and the characters begin to believe that they are untouchable. It certainly played itself out with Cosby but we were also witnesses to it in these hearings, again, where very little listening and hearing takes place because of power and wealth. Once we begin to believe that our power is being stripped of us we start to lash out and react in order to hold on more tightly. I’m not sure what kind of example we leave for future generations when we find elders lashing out and screaming at one another, supposed to be adults yet looking more like characters, clinging to a reality that no longer exists. If that’s what it means to be a man, well, then I’m embarrassed to be a man. If you think any of this is about justice, well, we’re sadly mistaken. Power and wealth, as part of the American way are symbolic of strength and success. But it’s not the gospel. It’s not the good news. It simply makes for good reality TV where division and conflict rule, separating ourselves from one another, making judgement, and no longer seeing the humanity of the other person. There’s no room for faith nor for God because these gods consume the space.
They are hard readings. It is, though, the reality of human nature to desire power and to think we can control and contain that power. It’s certainly what Jesus and Moses both contend with in the first reading and Gospel. In both situations the Spirit is given and yet, no sooner they witness people outside their “trip” and “group”, they immediately demand it to stop. They hold the truth. They have the power. They believe they control God. No sooner you believe that, there is no room for God, for Mystery. It becomes about idols. Last week the disciples argued about who’s the greatest and today it continues about power and holding onto that power. It becomes about their place of prestige. Somehow we believe that if we play the role and live into that character, dress the part, that’s all that matters. All we do is sell ourselves short and sell our souls for something other than God. We sell ourselves for power and wealth because we’re convinced and told to believe in the gospel of the Western World that life is about power, success, and wealth. If we have done all three, we’ve done it well.
Well, if you believe that, James has a warning for you. He tells us this morning that that’s what eventually does in the righteous one on the Cross. It will fatten your heart. It will lead to condemnation. It will lead to division and often unnecessary conflict. Heck, for that matter, it leads to death threats to this day. That’s what we become. It shows just how much we have separated ourselves from the other and are being held hostage by our tribes, our camps, whether liberal or conservative or whatever you call yourself. It’s amazing how we can believe that our group holds the total truth and the other is complete evil. How have we gotten here? Well, money and power certainly play a part in this reality TV program.
Yet, true power is shown, over and over, to the disciples and throughout the gospel through the one who is powerless. The great power arises when the righteous one is nailed to the Cross. But that doesn’t make for great TV. It makes us turn our heads in shame. We don’t want to admit that that’s what we continue to do by clinging to our idols. More often than not the prophetic voice never rises from within the insiders of a group or tribe. Each one is too blind to see itself for who it is and its own shortcomings, whether politics or religion. There needs to be a restoring of humanity, the real humanity, not some character. We need the space in order to truly hear and listen to the other while being open to what is said, dialoging with one another and not through a screen. We must first remember that we are brothers and sisters. We must first remember that we are sons and daughters of God, not of power and wealth. That may all work well for reality TV, but not so much for the real reality, our lives, which take the hits and the brunt of the pain that it’s causing. We pray for the grace to have that space in our own hearts and souls to listen and to see the other for who they really are and not some character to be destroyed on a screen. It’s so easy to hide behind all of these characters, for all of us, but it will never lead to the fullness of life we desire. It will never bridge the gaps and gaping holes that exist in our politics, Church, and beyond. It is an acceptance of our own power in our powerlessness where we will find the strength to “cut off” the characters that cause us to sin and inspire the idols of our lives, and rather be who we really are. It is only there that we see each other as ourselves.