Master of Allusion
“Go and learn this wise saying, ‘What I want is kindness and mercy, not animal sacrifices,’ I have not come for the ones with good hearts. I have come to help the outcasts find the path back home again.” (First Nations Version)
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
June 9, 2023, Words By: Joel Kiekintveld, Image By: Rod Long
Recently the wildly successful Apple TV show Ted Lasso ended its run. For the past few years I eagerly waited for each episode. One of the many reasons I love Ted Lasso is its brilliance in crafting allusions that seamlessly reference both internal aspects of the show and external elements from other TV shows and movies. The writers of Ted Lasso were masters of allusion, and in this week’s passage we find Jesus making a masterful allusion of his own.
When Jesus overhears the Pharisees ask his disciples why he is eating with wrong people he responds, “Go and learn this wise saying, ‘What I want is kindness and mercy, not animal sacrifices.’ I have not come for the ones with good hearts. I have come to help the outcasts find the path back home again” (Matthew 9:13 – First Nations Version).
It might seem that Jesus is eluding the question, but buried in this response is an allusion that the Pharisees likely picked up on a lot faster than we might. When Jesus says, “What I want is kindness and mercy, not animal sacrifices,” he is quoting Hosea 6:6. Those who heard the answer would have known that Jesus was making a reference to the Old Testament prophet Hosea. They would have known that Hosea, in order to show God’s love for his unfaithful people, was asked to marry, and have children with, one of the “wrong people,” a promiscuous and adulterous woman.
In light of that allusion, one way we can read this section of Matthew is that the Pharisees question Jesus about his association with the wrong people, to which he responds, “You are worried about eating with these people? Remember Hosea, he was married to one of them! God has always been about loving the outcast. This is nothing new.”
Jesus is Jedi mind-tricking those asking questions, by leading them back to their own scripture and reminding them that this is what God does. In a sense Jesus goes Hank Williams Jr. on them and says “I’m just carrying on an old family tradition.”
The Pharisees used religious laws and rituals to figure out who was in and who was out. Jesus was pointing them away from that rigid rubric and towards the loving reality that has always been at God’s core. Creator Sets Free (the name used for Jesus in the First Nations Translation of the Bible) is seeking to set the Pharisees, and all of us, free from the rules and rituals we use to define ourselves over and against other people.
It’s not just the answer Jesus gives that is teaching but also how he is acting in the text. Around the time of this exchange, Thomas, a tax collector and thus an outsider, was invited to become a disciple. In this chapter, Jesus also heals a number of people who would have been considered medical outcasts in the community. In one healing story, a powerful man’s daughter is healed. Along the way to attend to the daughter, Jesus encounters another outcast — an afflicted woman suffering from continuous bleeding — who finds healing by touching him.
Healing in this chapter is for everyone regardless of the rules, and the “uncleanness” of tax collectors, sinners and the ill does not “rub off” on Jesus.
Theologian Thomas Jay Oord speaks of God’s Amipotence (a word he coined using the Latin prefix for love with the Latin word for potency). In essence, Oord is saying that the foremost attribute of God is God’s love. He writes,
“God’s uncontrolling love is the most powerful force in the universe…God is amipotent in the sense that divine love preconditions and governs divine power. God always exerts power lovingly. Because love comes logically before power in God’s nature and this love is essentially uncontrolling, divine amipotence never controls.”
The Pharisees sought to control people through religious rules and rituals. However, Creator Sets Free (Jesus) invites them, and us, to consider that God is rooted in love; Jesus came to show what that love loves like. A lot of this teaching is encapsulated in that subtle nod to Hosea from a master of allusion.
How do you define who is in and who is out in your world? Be honest, we all do it.
What would it mean to live out God’s love (God’s amipotence) as God’s primary/most important attribute in your life and work?