Jesus also mentions tax collectors and prostitutes in our reading. These people were labelled transgressors of national interests (tax collectors) and of religious morality (prostitutes), but they also embraced Jesus’ vision for human community (the kingdom) and its economic teachings of sharing resources, mutual aid, wealth redistribution, taking care of the vulnerable, and including the marginalized and excluded. Zacchaeus was an example of those who breached the national interest, and it’s interesting that, in true patriarchal form, we have no names of prostitutes passed down. Instead, we have the later fabrication that labels Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This fabrication was a patriarchal (or patristic) attempt to lessen her influence and marginalize those who recognized her apostleship. (Thus the term patristic fathers.)
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Our story this week models a possible response we could use when our authority is challenged and as we stand up to injustice and harmful abuses. As Christians, some of us are looking for equal access to a seat at a table we should be flipping because of whom those systems are harming. There is a vast difference between working for the equal opportunity to compete in a system that rewards some and harms others and working toward an entirely different social order that doesn’t produce winners and losers. This “entirely different social order” means a way of living together with enough for everyone, where we only take what we need and share the rest, and where we make sure everyone cared for.
In this light, taking up the cross becomes a mandate to flip oppressive tables even if you are threatened with a cross for doing so. We can read a lot more from this story that may help us in our justice work today.
If the powerful and privileged elites in Jesus’s society couldn’t recognize that John the Baptist was standing in the authority of the Hebrew prophetic justice tradition, they would not recognize him doing the same. Note that Jesus doesn’t attempt to convince them. He doesn’t waste time defending his right to speak out or his right to exist. He’s got work to do. He dismisses their challenges to his authority to speak out and gets back to his work of shaping our world into a just, compassionate, safe home for everyone, specifically those presently marginalized.
There is a lesson in this for us. We’ll explore this lesson, next.
(Read Part 3)