Luke 11:29-32 (CEV)
29 As crowds were gathering around Jesus, he said:
You people of today are evil! You keep looking for a sign from God. But what happened to Jonah is the only sign you will be given. 30 Just as Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, the Son of Man will be a sign to the people of today.31 When the judgment comes, the Queen of the South will stand there with you and condemn you. She traveled a long way to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and yet here is something far greater than Solomon. 32 The people of Nineveh will also stand there with you and condemn you. They turned to God when Jonah preached, and yet here is something far greater than Jonah.
Condemned by Foreigners
If I imagine the events of the Portland stabbing last week, I hear vitriol and hate slide out of the mouth of a large, intimidating man at two young girls – one of whom was wearing a hijab.
The man in question – Jeremy Joseph Christian – was convinced that he was better than these girls. That his hate of the girls and the men who defended them was justified because they were the cause of his problems, and the cause of his country’s problems. That if only they had the right colour of skin or believed the “right things” (like he does) then everything would be fine.
And while most of the time it doesn’t come to a lethal stabbing, it seems that it’s a pretty human thing to have someone or some group of people that we judge ourselves to be better than. (Let’s face it – how many of us just thought ‘but at least I’m not as bad as Mr. Christian’!)
Despite his last name or the fact that white supremacism often wraps itself in the cloak of Christianity, I doubt that if Jesus himself had been on that train it would have made much difference to what Mr. Christian would have attempted that day. No amount of ‘reasoning’ with the man would have changed things. I suspect that if Mr. Christian had followed Jesus around for days or weeks or even months previously, he would have still assumed that Jesus had come to place white’s back in their ‘rightful’ place, and would have completely and totally missed the point of Jesus’ words.
And in their own way, that seems to be what was happening with some of the folks who were following Jesus. They seemed to be missing the point. They seemed to be trying to force Jesus into being who they wanted him to be, instead of listening and responding with changed hearts and transformed lives to the invitation he was offering.
So Jesus tells them a story about a queen and a group of people.
The Queen of the South was a foreigner who travelled to Israel from Africa (probably Nubia, or present-day Ethiopia). She had no reason to listen to the God of Israel or his King, and yet she travelled many, many hundreds of miles to do just that. But she was female. She was black. She was a foreigner. She probably dressed funny and followed funny rituals and didn’t know to offer the right sacrifices.
Jesus’ listeners had probably come up with a multitude of reasons to condemn her.
The people of Nineveh were hated, treacherous enemies of the Jews. They were seen as incredibly immoral people, and Jonah was none too pleased that God asked him to be part of giving them a chance to repent. (Jonah just wanted them to burn!!!) Yet the Ninevites listened to Jonah’s warnings and did what God had told them to do. But they hadn’t kept the sexual rules. They hadn’t kept the dietary rules. They hadn’t kept the dress rules. They hadn’t kept any of the rules – yet in response to their changed lives, God relented and didn’t punish them.
Jesus’ listeners definitely had lots of reasons to condemn the Ninevites!
But Jesus shows up in their midst and starts talking about life and wholeness; about love and shalom; about blessings and futures, and this audience is too busy with it’s hatred and condemnation of everyone else that they miss it! And so Jesus tells them off in a most profound way. He turns the tables on their condemnation and tells them that the very people that they are condemning will be the ones to condemn them at the end of it all.
Apparently their smug superiority will get them nowhere. Evidently their ‘righteousness’ and ‘purity’ won’t make any difference. Indesputably neither their race, their ethnicity, their gender or their sexual practices will buy them the favour they are looking for. To an audience that held radical thinkers from right and left, Jesus says “this is not the way forward.”
There is a way forward, but it isn’t what they think.
The only way forward is to walk away from the game of who’s in and who’s out (whatever ‘side’ you decide you fall on) and get real about being the person God made you to be for the purpose he called you to live.
- Are there people who you think less of? Regardless of where you sit, you may have opinions – possibly very strong opinions – of people because of their religion or ethnicity; their sexuality or level of wealth; their politics or ‘lifestyle’ or friends or hobbies.
- Do you ever find yourself justifying your actions or attitudes or beliefs as ‘at least’ being ‘better’ than ‘those people?’
- What would you say if Jesus showed up today and told you that people from the ‘those people’ group were going to be the ones to write your obituary at the end of your life? That they would be given power to tell your story when all was said and done?
- Is it possible that they would have something to say about what you had done with your position? Your power? Your privilege? Might they say that Jesus was right there and you missed him?