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If the gospel of Matthew had ended just before tonight’s gospel, it would have been a different story.  We would walk away with the impression that the “powers that be” (Rome) clamped down on this threat to the status quo, with its brutal, and therefore intimidating, technology of crucifixion.  That’s what raw power does.  It seizes control.  It demands to be respected (or in Caesar’s case, even worshipped).  We know that there is more to the gospel though.  And we know that even when the “powers that be” hear this news, they will only see it as a tale to be dismissed.  Nothing new has happened.  Power is continually justifying itself: Caesar looks in the mirror and says like so many power hungry people before and since, “Seize control and expect everyone to give their lives to you, O Great One!”

When blind to our false biases, we see

This egomaniacal, narcissistic approach to life is blind.  It can’t see the new possibilities.  Let me give a graphic example of this kind of blindness.  Before blind auditions became common in the 70s, just 5% of musicians at top five U.S. orchestras were women. The theory was that women weren’t very good musicians. But labor unions protested the hiring process and pushed for blind auditions where musicians would try out behind a curtain so appearance and gender were concealed.   By 1997 it was 25%.  The screen increased their chances significantly at each round of selection.  So please notice; before blind auditions, interviewers were listening to these women play and the interviewer’s ability to appreciate what they were actually hearing was thwarted by a concept they had in their head about women.  (I know this comes as no surprise to women and to others who have witnessed a bias discounting their excellence.) 

I just use this as an example of a tenacious bias that affects the quality of life of countless people.  The bias for the folks at the time Matthew’s gospel was written is that Power owns the world and can do what it wants.  Whoever can get away with brutal and intimidating murders—wins and rules.  If you “know” this to be true, it is difficult to see the new possibilities.  Despite the excellent music that is right in front of you.  Or in this case, the person (Jesus) who was full of goodness who was right in front of them.   Caesar—or any dominator—simply cannot compare in attractiveness to the goodness—the God-ness—that was shining through Jesus at every turn; yet Caesar will be chosen every time.  Why?  Because people are biased to believe we need a dominator to get the job done! 

Seizing: control or love?

So, back to the gospel.  Two women, followers of Jesus, come to the tomb TO SEE (which in this gospel means “to understand’).  When they have an experience of Jesus as alive, we’re told that they “seized” him.  This is a whole different kind of seizing than when the guards seized Jesus three days earlier.  Let’s think about this.  There is a kind of seizing that happens when one person wants to control another—holding that person down by force, holding her as a hostage or slave or prisoner.  Then there is the kind of seizing that is a warm and tender hug or embrace, where neither the lover nor the loved wants the embrace to end quickly.  As a million songs have sung: “never let me go.”  A prisoner would not say that.  A slave would not say that.  A hostage would not say that.  Can you see, understand, the difference? 

Worshipping: out of fear or love?

For those who have eyes to hear, there is a whole different way of seizing that is real power.  Whoever masters this really should be our hero, not Caesar or his present day pretenders.  That is why the women, we are told, fall down and worship him.  You might think because of our traditional religious language, “Of course they worshipped him, he was God.  That’s what you do to a god, you worship him/her.”  Well, indeed John has a very deep appreciation of Jesus’s God-ness.  But that is not what is going on here.  The gospel without this final section would have told of a world where people would have gone on to “worship” Caesar out of fear because he was in control.  He demanded that people literally fall down in worship when he was around.   So the gospel is saying that these women had eyes to see.  They could see the New Leader, the awesome Teacher, who really should be fawned over like some rock star because he points out a way that really does work.  Love works.  Even when you lose your life loving.

Listen to the Voice that is deeper than that bias for powerful force

This tells us at least a couple of things.  Let’s let the sign of peace at every eucharist be a symbol for us of a different way of seizing.  Let us give up the need to control verses surrendering to the call to love.  And let’s not be afraid to express our admiration for the Christ, who is the mysterious guest at each of our gatherings.  He is worth getting excited over because he is pointing us toward a whole different way to see the world, embracing a way of love that is stronger than the powers of death.  Every time we enter this church we have a chance to decide whether to listen to the old inner bias for Caesar or to listen to the living One at the root of our being. 

Sts. Clare & Francis
Easter Vigil
April 19th, 2014
Focus text: Matthew 28:1-10 (The women “seized him and worshipped him.”)
Homily by Frank Krebs (with inspiration from Warren Carter’s Matthew and the Margins)

Photo by Darrell Lawrence on flickr.com

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