From the time we’re born, we are brought up to find our way within institutions. Families show us how to act in ways that will be rewarded or punished . Schools have their own slate of right and wrong, honoring certain behaviors, inculcating us into a social way of life. Businesses have their standards of operation, and ways to conduct ourselves if we want to be rewarded and advance.
These systems become the air we breathe—we often don’t notice them until we change systems, or cross someone else, or want something that the system is not rigged to give us.
Or sometimes we notice them when someone standing outside the system, or at the fringes, tells us that this system isn’t for them.
Maybe then our eyes get opened, even if just for a second. We start to see that this system isn’t just a given. It has been constructed. It has been constructed to reward certain people, to reward certain traits.
And it has led us to believe, whether explicitly or implicitly, that those who differ are, somehow, wrong. They don’t belong. They cannot thrive here.
A family might blow up over an interracial dating partner, “rebellious” child, or spouse from a different region or class or religion.
A company might blow up over someone from a less authoritarian / structured work environment.
A church might blow up over… over what? What are the systems we have created, in Jesus’ name? What do we expect from our people, from our leaders? Who do we expect people to be, how do we expect them to act? What do we reward, and what do we shame?
The Gospel stories are poised to bring us face to face with those questions.
They are poised to hold up a mirror to us. And, if we are willing, they are poised to show us how the creep of power and of culture and of assumption and of reward have all placed us in the position of those whom Jesus must rebuke, again and again, as he attempts to turn on its head the economies of all these social systems with their promises of belonging and exclusion, of honor and shame, of reward and punishment, of gain and loss.