Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Not My Job

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

So when I read this gospel passage earlier in the week, I imagined that I was listening to the NPR news quiz show, “Wait … Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” How many of you are familiar with this show, which airs on KUOW on Saturday mornings?

I imagined that Peter Sagal was welcoming a celebrity guest to the show, as he does each week to play the portion of the show called “Not My Job.” The task is to quiz a known personality on a topic not normally associated with his or her field of work. Now, this is usually some B-level celebrity, with some notable exceptions in the past, including Bill Clinton, whom Peter quizzed about “My Little Pony.” (The former president got three out of three questions correct, by the way.)

But this week is extra special. This week, Peter Sagal has called Jesus of Nazareth onto the show. So with apologies in advance to Peter Sagal and to NPR (and maybe Jesus, too!) for taking their names in vain … welcome Jesus of Nazareth, everybody! [applause]

Jesus: Thank you, Peter, thank you for having me on your show.

Peter: Jesus, we’re so glad you could join us today. In fact, we’re so honored to have you here that we’re going to do things a little differently this time. We’re going to ask you to pick our quiz topic. Honestly, we didn’t know what else to do. I mean, you’re the Son of God, right? Is there anything you don’t know about? Is there anything not normally associated with your field of work?

Jesus: Well, Peter, I guess you’ve got a point. I am the second person of the Trinity, and in the beginning, all of space and time was created through me. But I’m also just a humble carpenter from a little village in first-century Palestine. So I guess it depends on how you want to approach my story today. For instance, some people think that just because I’m the Son of God, I would have been able to speak English. Seeing as the English language wouldn’t exist for centuries after my earthly life, I think that’s a pretty dubious claim. You could quiz me on Shakespeare, and I wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

Peter: But, Jesus, don’t you pervade all things? Aren’t you speaking English with me right now?

Jesus: Yes, that’s a little confusing, isn’t it? It’s one thing to approach me according to my humanity, as Jesus of Nazareth. With my divinity—Jesus as Christ—you step right into a world or metaphors, and it’s easy to lose your footing.

Peter: Well, then what should we quiz you about?

Jesus: I have an idea. Why don’t you quiz me on judgment?

Peter: Judgment?

Jesus: Yes, judgment. See, that’s not really my job. I just said as much in today’s gospel reading, which was, after all, a brief summary of my entire ministry, and which I cried aloud just before the foot-washing and my arrest in the Kidron Valley.

Peter: Now, hang on a minute. You say judgment is not your job? How can you say that? I mean, looking at John’s gospel alone, you say in several places that judgment is the job that God the Father has given you to carry out. And the Nicene Creed says you “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”

Jesus: Well, yes, you’re right—good biblical research, Peter! “Judge” is actually part of my ultimate job description. But honestly, from day to day, it doesn’t match up with my actual duties. See, if I went around describing myself as your “judge,” you’d hear it all wrong. You’d imagine a guy in a big wig, sitting on a really high bench, hurling condemnations from above about how naughty you’ve been. Frankly, that’s how most people see me, even many of those who claim to have been following me all their lives. It’s a real problem. They cheat on their diet and they imagine me wagging a finger at them. They cheat on their spouse and they imagine that I’m stoking the flames of hell—an existence I entered in order to destroy it, by the way.

Peter: Well then, what exactly is the nature of your “judging”?

Jesus: You might want to notice, for one thing, that the word in Greek is Krino, from which you get your English word “crisis.” When you think of me as your judge, think of me as coming into your life to force a crisis.

Peter: That doesn’t sound very pleasant!

Jesus: Oh, no, it isn’t pleasant at all. But ultimately, it’s extremely helpful. Remember that I know you far better than you know yourself. Most of the time you walk around fooling yourself into thinking you can live your life in some sort of balance between the short-sighted, selfish actions that give you immediate gratification, and the long-term, difficult work of love that makes you holy. But you can’t. You’ll always fall off the beam one side or the other, and usually it’s the first one. My job is to hold a mirror up to you and show you this fact.

Peter: So, no matter how much I try to be a good person, I will always fail?

Jesus: Right. And if I can help you see that, then something has to change.

Peter: But if I will always fail, then how can I change? How can I ever achieve perfection?

Jesus: Well, first off, you can let go of this perfection idea. When I said, “Be perfect,” I didn’t mean, “Be flawless.” I meant, “Be whole.” Be content with yourself. Make friends with all your character flaws and greet them when they show up; if you do this, you’ll have them on a leash, by the way. It’s your flaws that make you loveable anyway, not your star qualities. But my main point is this: Once you see yourself as you really are, maybe that will change the way you treat others. Maybe you’ll be more likely to love them. Because who’s really doing the judging here? I’m just holding the mirror. If you hear my words and don’t keep them, I don’t judge you for it, because I know you’re full of flaws. But if you can accept those flaws and understand that I always see you as whole and not broken—no matter what—well, my friend, that’s salvation right there. And ultimately, that’s my job: salvation, not judgment.

Peter: So what about the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead”? And what about another passage in John’s gospel: “[God] he has given him authority to execute judgment”?

Jesus: Well, that’s a pretty deep mystery there. I would invite you to let go of all your assumptions about it, especially assumptions that include some sort of revenge against people who have wronged you, or assumptions that give you some sort of privilege over others just because you’ve been good. When I say it’s not my job to judge, I mean that I don’t keep score along the way. How can you judge a life that’s only half-lived? I let the weeds grow among the wheat, and if you don’t like it, well, you’re not the farmer. Suffice it to say that all the judgments that need to occur will occur in due time—or, really, outside of time, which God the Father invented anyway. And judgment doesn’t necessarily mean condemnation. It does mean accurate assessment for the purpose of growth. The point is for you to get the focus off of yourself, and put it where it belongs: on others. You do your job—loving God and loving other people—and I’ll do my job—saving all the lost and broken. So, Peter … what’s the first question in the quiz?

Peter: Well, I was going to ask you whether Hitler is burning in hell. That was supposed to be the lowball question we give to our biggest celebrities so they have an easier time winning. But now I’m not sure it’s my job to have a ready answer.

Jesus: Now you’re getting it! I may not spend all my time judging, but you’re even less qualified than I am.

Peter: So much for our quiz.

Jesus: That’s OK, Peter—I suggest we break format and break some bread together. And I see they’ve given you a glass of water to keep by your microphone, but if you’ll take a sip now you’ll find it’s actually a very nice Merlot. Welcome to the party!

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