Many of you have heard me tell stories about my sister, Dinah. She has what’s known as Prader-Willi Syndrome, it’s caused by the deformity of Chromosome-15. She’s mentally and physically handicapped. Dinah is the oldest known living person with PWS in the State of Arizona. She just celebrated her sixty-first birthday. Most people with PWS die in their late thirties due to issues related to PWS.
Despite Dinah’s limitations, I consider her to be a wise mystic. Talking to her is similar to having a conversation with God: you have to sit in silence, be patient, and listen carefully. Even then, you might not hear a word. And when you do, it’s not the word you were looking for.
Several years ago, a woman asked my mom that if she could wish for a miracle would she want Dinah to be normal. In a flash, my mom replied, “Actually, I think Dinah’s the normal one and we’re the ones who are handicapped.”
The woman replied, “Well, I think if you had enough faith and prayed hard enough, God would grant your wish.”
The woman asked a question, for which she already had an answer. She was acting like she was God because she had created God in her own image. This woman assumed God was judging my mother for her lack of faith.
All the while, my mom was trying to tell the woman that she needed to turn her thinking upside down; to think in a different way. That’s the point of this morning’s strange gospel reading. Jesus wants us to think differently about the nature of God.
In Luke’s gospel (13:1-9) the people were asking Jesus the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But those people already had an answer. They assumed that those who had died tragic deaths were being judged because they deserved to die. They thought God would be judgmental like they were. In other words—if they were God, that’s what they would do.
But, Jesus responded in his typical fashion. He never answered a direct question. That’s how my sister answers every question. You can ask her anything, from the mundane to the complex, and she always says, “I not not know.” As if she’s saying, I don’t know—But, if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.”
What Jesus does tell them, though, is to repent. By repent, he means that they need to change their way of thinking. In other words, they need to turn their thinking upside down. The people thought that God should control everything that happens in the world. God should punish the evil and reward the righteous. They thought God should manipulate the world for their benefit.
But that’s not what Jesus taught. Jesus told them to stop thinking that way. Jesus said that the sun rises on the good and the evil. Jesus said that the rain falls on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). My sister has PWS because it randomly happens in one of every 10,000 births. In other words, life is random, shit happens. Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t leave us hanging with the old adage, “Life sucks and then you die.” He tells us a story that I imagine went like this.
You see that fig tree over there? My dad planted that tree years ago. Every year he would till the ground around the tree, gather manure and mulch it into the ground. Then he would carry buckets of water to pour around the tree. Year after year he took care of that tree. And still, the tree never produced any fruit. I asked my dad once why he didn’t just cut the tree down and simply plant another one. My dad said, “My son, I love that tree because it reminds me of God’s love for me. I make mistakes everyday. But God continues to nurture me. God feeds me. God waters me. God does all the work. And still day after day I can’t seem to bear any fruit. I’m so underserving. But God never abandons me.” When my dad died, I kept caring for that tree because it too reminds of my heavenly father. No matter what happens in this random world, he loves us. Our heavenly father is constantly down on his hands and knees, tilling the soil around us. He goes out into the pasture and gathers the stinky manure. Then with his hands, he mulches that manure into our soil. And then he fetches bucket after bucket of water to make sure we have enough to drink in hopes that, one day, we might bear fruit. But, no matter what happens, even if we never bear one fig of fruit—our heavenly father will never give up on us. He will never cut us down.
Jesus told this story because this is how he envisioned the never-ending love and forgiveness of God. Jesus is telling us that this is how he cares for us, giving us never-ending love and forgiveness. And Jesus is telling us this story because he wants us to turn our thinking upside down—he wants us to give our love and forgiveness to others unconditionally. But how do we do this?
Jesus told us to feed the hungry, give the thirsty a drink of water, visit the sick and those in person, and to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35). Jesus told us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:39) Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). Jesus spoke out against hate language that bullies other people. Jesus spoke out against the oppression of the poor. Jesus spoke out against the injustices in our world.
You’ve heard me say that the teachings of Jesus are weird—and that his teachings will turn our thinking upside down. Thinking like Jesus will affect what we eat, what we buy, how we treat other people and how we vote. I think that’s true and I’m not afraid to say it.
Being in the Jesus Movement means that Jesus’ teachings will affect every aspect of my life—including my politics. If a political candidate sounds like they would bully Jesus for his teachings on love and forgiveness, how could I support that person? If I can’t find Jesus’ teachings about love and forgiveness somewhere in the candidate’s political agenda, how could I vote for them? Being in the Jesus Movement is hard work because Jesus’ teachings are often hard to live out. But, I believe that is our calling.