Polarization? Not around Jesus.
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Saturday, February 20th: Psalm 25:1-10; Psalm 32; and Matthew 9:2-13. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
If you click on the link to the Boston Globe article, you will see on the chart that Americans are about in the middle of the pack among Western Democracies when it comes to political polarization. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/02/10/opinion/us-is-less-polarized-than-you-might-think/ The problem, however, is that the rate of polarization is increasing more rapidly here than in those other countries.
Polarization is abetted by separation and tempered by contact. If you visit our FaceBook page and scroll down a bit, you will see a link to an article in The Recorder about a group that brings together the conservative-leaning people from the Appalachian areas of Kentucky with the progressive-leaning residents of our local town of Leverette. They are proving in real life the theory about polarization. When people get to know one another rather than create caricatures of each other, they realize that we have so much more in common than would be imagined. Friendships have been made among people who are on completely opposite ends of the political spectrum. Where polarization should have been rampant, relationships formed instead.
Think about today’s Gospel. Up to this point in Matthew, Jesus has called four Galilean fishermen as disciples. Today Jesus calls a tax collector. Without going into it, I imagine you have heard the explanation before, Jews who worked for the Roman Empire collecting the taxes that paid for the occupying forces to remain in Israel were not well liked to say the least. And yet Jesus brings together Galilean fishermen and a tax collector in that tight knit group of disciples.
I imagine it may not have been comfortable for the fishermen to share food with the tax collector and his kind, but there they were in Matthew’s home breaking bread with “tax collectors and sinners.” Do you remember one of the final scenes of the movie Patton with George C. Scott? Do you remember the festive dinner the Soviets threw upon the defeat of the Nazis, and Patton and the Americans sitting there with scowls on their faces refusing to participate? I wonder if that’s the same look the fishermen-disciples had on their faces in Matthew’s house.
Here’s the funny thing. The Pharisees see this – Jesus sitting with an unsavory sort and maybe the disciples sitting like the Americans in Patton. Thinking they may have a sympathetic ear with the disciples, the Pharisees ask them why Jesus associates with such people as “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus hears the question, which begs another question. Just where were the Pharisees when they made their inquiry if Jesus was able to hear?
Don’t we have to assume that the Pharisees are also in Matthew’s house? Are they even daring to sputter in contempt of “tax collectors and sinners” between bites of free food? How else could the Pharisees have asked the disciples their question since Matthew writes: “… were sitting with [Jesus] and his disciples”?
Compare the example of the Pharisees with Jesus’ deliberate effort to bring polarized opposites together. It may have been uncomfortable, but the Galilean fishermen were sitting at table with the tax collectors of the Romans, and the fishermen would soon be joined by Matthew the tax collector as disciples in that intimate circle around Jesus.
Jesus is beginning to create a community where everyone is respected for who they are not what others claim they must be. The disciples had to look past their assumptions of each other and see the person … and Jesus’ church began to form. I invite you to join us in worship as Jesus’ church tomorrow morning for the First Sunday of Lent.
We are proudly “Open and Affirming,” which means that honestly and sincerely “Whoever you are, you are welcome at our church.” You can join in person at the church building or join as most are doing at present by worshiping online. Drop me an email (email@example.com) and I will send you the log-in link for the worship Service.
Polarization is increasing in our country. Let’s continue what Jesus started at Matthew’s house so long ago by coming together in spite of our differences as we gather around Jesus.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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