Prophets in Hindsight

Friday, December 13, 2013 — Week of Advent 2, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Haggai 1:1-15

Revelation 2:18-29

Matthew 23:27-39

After a few years of involvement in anti-racism workshops, I’ve noticed a type of story that many white folks like to tell. The stories often celebrate a family member, usually in the 1960s, who found ways to transcend the racial divides of their day. In my extended family, we tell stories like this: two African American employees showed up at a grandfather’s funeral because he’d been such a fair and kind supervisor; a father hosted a cast party for his daughter’s high school play on the condition that she invite everyone, black and white; and a cousin brought his African American college classmates home for Thanksgiving dinner.

In my experience as a white person, these stories give us faith that perhaps our own sense of compassion and justice might have triumphed over the cruelty and prejudices that blinded everyone else in the past. But although these stories may be true, they are also our way of consoling ourselves in the manner of the scribes and Pharisees in today’s gospel. We hope that, if we had lived in the past, we would have embraced the prophetic voices for freedom and equality and not been implicated in racial violence.

Yet as we tell these stories, we’re probably more like the gospel’s scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites. Jesus tells them, “you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.'” Can we be so sure?

As Nelson Mandela’s body lays in state, are we behaving much like the scribes and Pharisees who build elaborate tombs and graves for prophets, but cannot heed them in our own day? Even those who criticize some phases of Mandela’s political career reflect the smugness of hindsight: surely a wiser young man in Mandela’s context should have been able to avoid bloodshed while resisting apartheid.

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ severe words call us all to great humility and repentance about our incapacity to recognize prophets, as well as our overconfidence that we could have done better with the past than our ancestors did. As Jesus says to his people, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Jesus is speaking to us, here and now. If we listen, we can hear his call to heed prophets and messengers, and we can feel his desire to gather together all the children of God, our mother in heaven. How is God with us, calling us to justice and gathering us together, not in hindsight, but this very day?

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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