A Beatitude Kind of World

"Some or other parable," Image by Jordan Gillespie via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This past week I presented at an amazing conference held in Waco, Texas, called “Nevertheless SHE Preached.”

A grassroots event, dreamt by two female Baptist preachers who saw and heard a need and did something about it. In only five weeks, they recruited speakers, musicians, and helpers to make their dream come true. They did it with their connections and selling t-shirts. They did it with taking risks. They did it with the sure and certain hope that God’s Spirit would show up. And she did. And the conference happened. And it was extraordinary — a testimony to the kind of resistance, vigilance, and persistence that is essential for how we do church these days.

There was no way I could not be there. I accepted unconditionally. Immediately. Without hesitation. And why? Because this is what the Gospel of God calls us to do. It compels us to go where God’s mercy and grace are not being preached to the fullest extent. It asks us to seek out where God’s intent to love the world is truncated. It demands that we speak up where God’s call to those whom God needs to proclaim the Word is viewed as invalid and is routinely rejected.

Just when you think you are aware of the challenges others face to be able to live in and live out who and what God has called them to be and do, you get an invitation to give a lecture at an event called “Nevertheless SHE Preached” — or, Jesus tells a parable like the laborers in the vineyard.

You see, I thought I had a pretty good awareness of my privilege. Yes, I am a woman. I wrote a book on women in ministry — I know the challenges women in ministry face. I’ve lived the challenges women in ministry face. But, I am white. Cis-gender. Heterosexual. I have tenure at my job. I am part of a denomination in which a good portion of the time my voice gets heard.

I am not queer, trans, or a person of color. I am not having to piece together jobs in a market where adjunct and contract faculty positions are the new norm. I don’t often enough have to think about whether or not people will listen to what I have to say. I just talk. I get a voice.

Jesus’ parable thrown alongside “Nevertheless, She Preached,” where the struggle to be heard, to be valued, to be recognized as a child of God was close and acute, will never, for me, sound the same again.

I think this is what Jesus is doing here. You think your privilege will make a difference? Will matter? Of course you do. That’s human nature. That’s human sin. You’d like to believe that’s not the case, but this is precisely why this parable has to be told — again and again.

The subversive and easily overlooked purpose of this parable is to make us realize how deep our sense of entitlement exists (and if you wonder if this true, read ahead to James and John, Matthew 20:20-28). How our sense of privilege is operative in how we envision what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like. How we have convinced ourselves that all, in equal measure, have indeed experienced the love and grace of God in their lives when in fact that is so very far from the truth. How quickly, easily, comfortably we settle in as the church chosen. Assuming we have the dominant theological voice. Supposing we are the ones blessed to carry on a manifestation of Christianity that, were we to go back and read the New Testament with any sense of honesty and dexterity, is unrecognizable.

The deep-seated, systemic, institutional reality of privilege, especially white-privilege, and more especially white-male-privilege continues to wreak havoc upon the basic principles of freedom and justice for all, but even more so these days, has allowed perpetuations of the Kingdom of Heaven with nary a Beatitude in sight.

The parable of the laborers in the vineyard does exactly what Jesus’ parables are meant to do. And the uncomfortable aspects of Jesus’ parables are exactly what need to be preached these days. Far too long, we have attempted to tame these parables, to fit them into the molds of our constructs of God, when in fact, the parables are meant to accomplish the opposite.

We hear them, we think we are starting to make sense of them, even begin to believe that we understand them, and then they get thrown alongside your life, the true purpose of a parable that we try very hard to forget. And then they finally do what they are meant to do — expose and disclose, uncover and unmask the many ways we accept a version of the Kingdom of Heaven that is nowhere near close to that which Jesus came to establish. They remind you, in no uncertain terms, of the work that still needs to be done, lest complacency and capitulation seep in.

I know what you are thinking, Dear Working Preachers. What is the good news in all of this? What is left to preach? The good news is that Jesus persists in telling us the truth about ourselves. Left to our own devices, we quickly lose sight of the Kingdom of Heaven and we simply cannot let that happen anymore. The good news is that we have a vision of the world that is truly good news — a Beatitude kind of world. And, the good news is that we get to be a part of making that happen.