Yiddish fork lore offers a telling tale about gossip-makers. One such man had told so many malicious untruths about the local rabbi that, overcome by remorse, he begged the rabbi to forgive him. “Rabbi, tell me how I can make amends.”
The rabbi sighed, “Take two pillows, go to the public square and there cut the pillows open. Wave them in the air. Then come back.”
The rumormonger quickly went home, got two pillows and a knife, hastened to the square, cut the pillows open, waved them in the air and hastened back to the rabbi’s chambers. “I did just what you said, Rabbi!”
“Good.” The rabbi smiled. “Now, to realize how much harm is done by gossip, go back to the square…”
“And collect all your feathers
While that story is about the damage done by spreading rumors it can also apply to that damage done by spreading division and disunity. Once Division and disunity spread it’s hard to get all those feathers back into the pillow.
That will be the challenge we as Disciples of Jesus face after this election. How do we put the feathers back in the pillow because we are so divided and the way we speak and treat one another is becoming uncivil and mean? My friend Joe, who is a retired Lt Colonel, and a professor of history wrote this on his FB page:
“My accomplishment of the day was to have some I do not know named Al Barr call me a libtard drivel” yesterday after he suggested gunning down immigrants down with machine guns.”
It almost seems providential that in our scripture passage this morning from Mark we seem to have a rare moment of unity between Jesus and the scribe. Up till this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and the Pharisees and the Sadducees had been going at each other over how one another practiced their beliefs. The Pharisee were always upset with they believed saw Jesus flaunting the law by his socializing and eating with sinners. Jesus was upset with the Pharisee and Sadducees for how they used the law to exclude people from God’s kingdom and treating them as if they did not matter to God.
Much has been made by Biblical commentators about Jesus’s answer to the scribe about what the most important commandment is. What is overlooked by most commentators is what Jesus said before he told the scribe what the most important commandment was. Jesus began his answer by saying the Shema: “Hear O Israel, The Lord God is one”. Why did Jesus say that? He didn’t have to say it. It’s not a commandment but rather a statement of faith that all devout Jews said.” Looking at the context of our scripture, you could argue that Jesus may have wanted to intimidate the young scribe, make sure the scribe understood the seriousness of the question he was asking. This is not just any God we are talking about here. This is the God, creator of the world, the judge of all things.
Perhaps by intimidating the young scribe Jesus though he would win the argument. But I don’t believe Jesus ever felt the need to win the argument with someone. What Jesus wanted to people to know and experience was that the God of grace loved them and that they were part of God’s Kingdom. That is something I think we as Christians forget. We get so caught up in winning the argument we forget that we are supposed to be about the task of helping people experience a God of grace and love. Despite our difference what matters is our personal relationship we have with God and one another.
So why did Jesus say the Shema? Two reasons. The first was his real desire to find common ground with that young scribe. We’re used to starting our argument with others by staking out our differences, ready to strike back when we hear something we don’t agree with, Jesus was a Jew and the Scribe was a Jew and the thing that all Jews shared was the Shema. It was their statement of faith and solidarity among themselves and it was one of things that made them unique in a world where there were many types being worshipped. It might help all of us is to establish with those whom we disagree what we have in common before we stake out what our positions are.
The second reason why Jesus spoke the Shema to the young scribe was out of respect. Saying the Shema to another Jews would have a been a sign of respect. It would be an affirmation that he was a member of God’s kingdom just as Jesus was. It’s sort of like hearing someone call you “Sir and Ma’am”. I had a young man from the south who I used to teach with in Breckenridge. I would come in the locker room and say “Good morning Austin, how are you today? He would reply I am good Mr. Wakeley. I would tell him Austin, we are both instructors and colleagues together so, you can call me Jeff. “Ok Mr. Wakeley.” Calling me sir was his way of showing me respect. One of things we have forgotten when we disagree with someone is that people deserve basic respect and that each person has value. We can get so caught up in what we think is right that we run the risk of devaluing people. And so it would help that we begin to see one another as fellow humans, who have feelings and dreams and failures and wants just like us, but also appreciate who they are and what they do.
The point I want to make here is simple. The important commandment is as Jesus and the scribe say, “Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s really pretty simple to say it but the hard part is putting it into practice. That is where is Jesus and the scribes and the Pharisee parted way. They each had their own way and understanding. And yet they shared a common ground in the Shema and in their faith in God.
It’s hard to love God and your neighbor if you are trying to win the argument with person you disagree with. It’s hard to love God and love your neighbor as you ought if you are making fun of them or demeaning them, or calling them name. It’s hard to love God and your neighbor if you see as less than human and not worthy of respect. Word and actions matter when it comes to loving God and loving neighbor. And so, it was no accident that Jesus says the Shema. Jesus saying the Shema gives us pause to stop and look at ourselves and one another and how we treat one another, especially in a society and culture that is becoming more and divided and focused on fear.
It’s clear in this election year that there are several choices to vote on. There is one side that focused on those things that unite us like the affordability and access to health care and another side which divides us and preys upon our fear of others such as the fear of illegal immigrants who want to come and take our jobs away and cause us harm. In the middle of all this is you and I and the Body of Christ. The same thing is going on in our denomination with upcoming General Conference that will determine how we as the United Methodist Church will go forward United or not over the question of homosexuality. And the questions after this election and after the General Conference is whether we put all the feathers back in the pillow of unity and community that has been torn apart. When you see the way, people act at political rallies and the things people call each other now it’s hard to imagine how all those feathers get back into the pillow. And then you add those people who feel empowered to take their frustrations and hurt out on killing innocent people or sending bombs making it seem lie it is impossible.
That why Jesus saying the Shema is important. Because we can see Jesus trying to find common ground with the scribe and treating that him with respect. Right now, what the world needs is to see Jesus’s example in us. His words and spirit moving in us and through us. Because the only place they will see Jesus in all this mess is in you and I, in the words we say and the actions we take.
In the end, the only way all those feathers get back in the pillows will be through the love and grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Without those things that Jesus did and showed in saying the Shema, it doesn’t matter what the most important commandments are. They are just hollow words. They really don’t mean much.