The lectionary strikes again.
As if we needed another affirmation that the Spirit is always a step ahead of the foolishness of the powers that be and the chaos we create as a civilization, this Sunday’s Gospel lesson ponders the possibility of goodness, even the incarnation of God, coming from a place written off by prejudice and ignorance.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
This is the knee jerk response of Nathaniel, one of the earliest disciples. Nathaniel was a fervent student of the Hebrew Scriptures and was waiting for God to act in a definitive way. When he finds out God has indeed acted and in a place like Nazareth, he dismisses the possibility. He reduces Nazareth and the people who call the place home to less than capable of bearing the fullness of the image of God.
It would be an overreach to make a direct parallel to Thursday's comments made by the president in the midst of bipartisan immigration talks, equating countries throughout the continent of Africa and Haiti as a $#!^hole. Frankly, there are few comparisons to this sort of insensitivity, bigotry, bravado, and ethnocentric and racial hate. There is no place for this kind of rhetoric, let alone the White House. The remarks of 45 presumes the absence of goodness in parts of the world and among beautiful people who have been making brilliant contributions in all aspects of human life for much longer than the United States. Lest we forget, this nation was (forcefully and oppressively) built on the backs of those from the very parts of the world targeted by these slanderous remarks.
If any nation’s present and past would be worthy of comparison to fecal depositories...
But I digress.
The very incarnation of Christ, especially in a place like Nazareth and in the region of Galilee, is yet another attestation to God’s preferential option for those on the margins. It could be said, God has a fondness for those who live in cities and neighborhoods, rural communities and distant nations who have been written off as $#!^holes. Even more, God putting on the skin of one from Nazareth affirms the goodness of the bodies, culture, and heritage of those Nathaniel (or anyone) initiailly deemed unworthy.
I have always wondered about the real relationship of Nathaniel with Nazareth and its residents. Had he been there? Did he know anyone, as in genuine human interactions with, those who called that northern part of Israel home? Was his opinion rooted in a real experience or merely perpetuations of racial-ethnic stereotypes? I wonder because Philip’s response to his minimization is, “come and see.”
What I have loved about the fall out from the president’s bigotry has been the way both ordinary citizens and those in the media have elevated their relationship with individuals from both African nations and Haiti. Instead of retaliating with varied metaphors aimed at the one who spoke such repulsive words, many have spent their energies to elevate the dignity of their Haitian and African neighbors, friends, spouses, children, community leaders, educators, artists, and activists who trump $#!^hole status. I could add my own personal anecdotes to these litanies of friendship and love, which mirror Philip as they invite us to come and see the goodness and wholeness in those slandered and shamed.
It is a twist of irony that these words were spoken on the cusp of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this being fifty years after his assassination. As if we needed another reminder, the dream has yet to be fulfilled and much work is still to be done as it pertains to dismantling the divisiveness of our nation and stymie hatred that still occupies prime seats at tables of power and privilege.
And so our call, in such a time as this as with every age, is to be Philip. We are to be those who invite others, especially our children, to come and see the alternative we know to be true about where and how God is being incarnated in those all-too-frequently written off and dismissed as less than good (and worse). We are to be those who point to the beauty and brilliance, wholeness and hope, joy and generosity, courage and faith of those targeted by hate, victimized by injustice, and reduced to vile imageries of offense and ignorance. These are the places where we encounter the holy traffic between heaven and earth, the greater things of which Jesus spoke (John 2:50-51),
"Come and see,” Philip said.
I pray we do just that, no only this weekend, but also and especially every day that follows. After all, real human relationships and incarnations of diverse human fellowship are a primary way we, as both church and broader society, can overcome the excrement coming from the mouths and policies, twitter feeds and backroom conversations of those in power.