Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God...
January 22, 2021, Words By: Joey Ager, Image By: Unknown
‘It just doesn’t fit their story of the neighborhood, the story they’re all living in,” She says with exasperation into the phone.
A local Pastor was telling me about her neighbors’ reaction to a proposed winter shelter. It was set to be located in a large and currently empty community center in their affluent neighborhood.
Every year in the Pacific Northwest winter, unsheltered neighbors die of exposure to the cold—the shelter will offer a simple place to sleep during the hardest months. But on this neighborhood’s local social media pages, in the press, on the TV news, and in government hearings, compassion was hard to find.
Instead, neighbors predicted rampant drug use and tent cities along their leafy main street, decried the proximity of the shelter to an (empty) school, spun unlikely conspiracies proliferating in private facebook groups, and blew racist dog whistles indicating that ‘those sorts of people’ were not welcome in this neighborhood.
These words were spoken from a dominant collective script that has become increasingly familiar for many of us—a story of fear, rumour, reaction, untruth, suspicion, tribalism, and anger.
This script is all around us: not just in the demonization of our most vulnerable neighbors in Tacoma, but in the storming of the US Capitol and its aftermath, in the absurd emergence of pandemic partisanship, in the tense atmosphere around the US presidential inauguration on Wednesday, and around the caravan of Hondurans who faced military resistance at the Guatemalan border this week
As the pages of the script turn, Violence stands in the wings, waiting for his eternal cue to be spoken aloud: ‘This isn’t how the story is supposed to go…’ Violence enters, offering a means to regain control. The script is reaching a climax.
How do we make peace at such a moment?
Jesus’ entrance and presence in Mark’s story (Mark 1:14) may offer some clues. The context of Mark’s story is not unlike our own: jealous rulers conspire to maintain power at all costs; colonial occupation is all encompassing; religious revolutionaries dream of overthrow; religious functionaries collude with the powers; expectation grows: “after me comes one who is more powerful than I…”
When Jesus is ready to enter the scene, the stage is set for escalation, catharsis, finality.
But Jesus declines to play the role his context casts him in. He goes off our script—he knows where that story ends because it has run in loops throughout human history.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
First, in this phrase Jesus shows that he knows well that the story he is walking into is one of expectation—to ‘fulfill’ requires a setup. But what ‘time’ is fulfilled? It’s not just the quotidian chronos of first century Judea, but a cosmic kairos that breaks the cycle of violence. He—as we should today—understands and engages the power of the stories we live inside. But as he engages expectations, already he exposes, undermines and reshapes them.
Second, he consciously disappoints the messianic memes of his time. Though messiahs are typically tied to repentance, the call is mostly directed at Others not yet in our tribe: Repent (read: join us), or die!
Jesus’ message here, though, is not just to others, but to all: violent champions rarely call their own tribe to repentance. This unfashionable word implies a universal humility that interrupts the contagion of violence. His response to the woman accused of adultery in John 7 demonstrates the revolutionary power of consciously disappointing violent expectation.
Finally, Jesus recenters his arrival in this scene away from historical expectation and towards his liberative message. Instead of escalating the logic of violence, he walks a path of refusal that exposes it as a trap and opens a new historical possibility—the good news.
What is his good news? That it is the year of Jubilee, the marks of which are unpalatable, even scandalous to the logic of violence: good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, the oppressed go free.
This week in the US we celebrated the birthday of one of the 20th century’s greatest prophets of non-violence, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As Violence waits in the wings today, hear Dr. King’s words from the kairos of the Civil Rights Movement:
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’