Being one week past the 2017 presidential inaugural address, it seems fitting that we consider the alternative “inaugural address” in Luke’s Gospel.
In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reads these words from Isaiah 61 in Nazareth’s synagogue: “God’s spirit is upon me; he’s chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor, sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the burdened and battered free, to announce ‘This is God’s year to act!’ ”
The imp in me counted 239 characters in that statement. It would have taken Jesus two tweets to share his address on social media. But he did better than that. He lived his address in a dangerous environment. His inaugural address was scandalous in his time, at least to those who held religious and civil power. But that’s what makes his life and ministry so easy to call “alternative.” He spoke and lived an authentic, loving truth to power.
But it wasn’t Jesus’ vision alone. His life reflects the alternative human values and potentials that most world religions have championed throughout history.
In June 2015, President Barack Obama spoke at Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Caroline. The occasion was a memorial service for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed with eight other members of that church.
One of Obama’s alternative to that tragedy? “To feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.” In another setting and another time, Bill Moyers called on our country to consider a similar alternative to the way we usually do things. He said simply, “charity provides crumbs from the table. Justice offers a place at the table.” The current presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, recently summed up an alternative mantra I find appealing: If it’s not about love, it’s not about god.
These three thoughtful, deeply compassionate men recognize what Jesus and hopeful people from all faith traditions have known: Freedom for healthy living requires freedom from unjust burdens. The list of unjust burdens is a very long one in our country and our world. We hear about them, we talk about them, we bemoan them, we write about them, and we wring our hands over them. Last Saturday, millions even marched about them.
But these actions are too often only reactions to that long list. They aren’t real alternatives unless our hearts and minds work together to reach out to others in hope. They aren’t real alternatives until we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable to what must result in just treatment of every person and every imbalance in creation.
Jesus stood tall and strong in the Old Testament prophetic tradition. But prophecy is so much more than future-telling. It has everything to do with truth-telling.
Ironically, truth-telling has often been an alternative to how we order and live our daily lives, our community lives, and our national life. We shy away from truth-telling because it can get us into trouble. We also shy away from it because we don’t easily tell truth to power in respectful ways that can restore rather than destroy relationships. My latest attempt to learn how to truth-tell better is a five-session class I’m developing at our church. I call it I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: Opening Your Heart, Opening Your Mind, Before Opening Your Mouth! We’ll explore and develop a healthy “spirituality of communication” rooted in God’s radical hospitality, that unconditional love of God for every person and for creation. Healthy truth-telling? I hope so!
The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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