It is good at times to reflect on our roots. Who are we and where did we come from? We are part of a tree rooted in an ancient people with a strong prophetic tradition. These roots go back beyond the social teachings of the church and beyond the ministry of Jesus. These roots are the foundation of what Jesus lived and taught and what ended up as the social teachings of the church. The roots always address the same crisis: “the common good:, the sense of community solidarity that binds all in common destiny-haves and have-nots, the rich and the poor.” The crisis is always about powerful forces at work among us to resist the common good, to violate community solidarity and to deny a common destiny. It is like a play with the same core plot line acted out again and again with a new set of actors and new twists and turns. The expectation is that people will begin to believe that the way things are is the way things are meant to be and that there is no alternative here and hope lies in the far off heaven of the future. Confronting this always proves very risky, as we have seen over time. It takes courageous people within the community to serve as a clarion-a wake-up call… a call to remind people that they are asleep because it seems they cannot even tell the difference, they are often too numb, cozy and comfortable. Keeping the story alive is part of our journey as we live in a covenantal relationship with God. The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament provide us with the stories… the memories that remind us about what we are to be about and how to act. The Jews make this journey through liturgical imagination over and over again in the Passover.
Jesus, throughout his public life, spoke with a prophetic voice. Jesus also spoke with an alternative wisdom, not a conventional one. What Jesus taught was subversive wisdom.
Being wise to him meant teaching subversive ideas in a subversive manner. His teachings created a cognitive dissonance-a psychological discomfort. He knew that his teachings would cause an internal struggle because wisdom is only acquired through personal struggle as is faith. The parables of Jesus were all about disassembling and reassembling.
Before students can be reoriented, they must first be disoriented. Before the seeds of an alternative wisdom can germinate, the hardened soil of conventional wisdom must be broken up, so that those seeds can be dropped into fertile soil.
Conventional wisdom is in the air of common sense. It is what everyone just knows to be true and is never questioned. It is practical based on a system of reward and punishment and it is hierarchical. People need to know their place and stay in it. In Jesus’ teachings and parables the world is turned upside down. The status quo is put into question. Such subversive wisdom is always a threat to law and order, to the religious establishment, and to the social hierarchy that creates and preserves wealth. The basic message always encompasses trust in God’s abundance and the covenantal practice of neighborliness. The anxiety system in the community arises from nightmares about scarcity. The ongoing contest is always about the urge to control and the power of emancipation linked to keeping God’s covenant which is Love of God, Love of Neighbor. Like so many prophetic voices that preceded him and have come after him, Jesus paid a heavy price.
It is no wonder that the key question of this prophetic tradition is the question of the neighbor: Who is my neighbor? It was a quarrel then and it is a quarrel today. It is so powerful that Michael Walzer, noted Jewish political philosopher, can conclude that the exodus narrative is the taproot of all revolutions in the modern world. The Lord of Sinai intends that all economies should be renovated for the common good.
The vision of creating a circle of protection around vital programs for poor and hungry people and a creating a circle of protection around vulnerable people means that these programs/people are under assault for why else would they need our protection? We are required to stop the assault, form a barrier of protection… and we do so by understanding who we are, denouncing the assault and the systems that assault them, embracing an image of an alternative way of being, acting on this vision, and expressing hope that change can/will happen here if we stand strong and are courageous. This is prophetic action for the common good. This is speaking and acting with subversive wisdom. This is what neighborliness is about. This is what loving God is about.
We know that wherever and whenever we live, it is probably Egypt—with pharaonic-like oppression. We know that there is a better place, a world more attractive—not just in the next life but the potential of bringing forth the reign of God here as Jesus directed us to do. We know that the way to a better place is always through the wilderness (pain and suffering) and there is no way to get there except by joining together, linking our arms and and moving forward because the wilderness is a scary place and if alone, one can get lost and devoured.
The wider community needs prophetic voices—people who hear and answer a prophetic call to name and identify what is going on, to denounce it, to announce an alternative vision which aligns with Gods’ covenant and demonstrated to us by the incarnate Christ. We need prophetic people who exhibit hope in the future because of our trust in God and confidence that we are spirit led. It requires people who have “fire in their bellies” and great courage of conviction to serve the community in this way… to wake people up from their sleep and numbness and to counter the forces that lull people back to sleep so easily and effectively. It requires people who are not afraid to unsettle because numbness is comfortable and comfort does not lead to change. God’s requirement for neighborliness requires constant alertness and hard work. This makes space for the miracle of God’s abundance, the relief from the anxiety of scarcity leading to the common good which we can call neighborliness.