Among the lessons shared by Dr. Imani Perry at this week’s MLK Day Convocation was the observation that, though often ignored by a Disneyfied version of King’s legacy that isolates him as a lone visionary, the gains of the Civil Rights Movement were the product of sustained grassroots organizing by people who largely remained out of the spotlight as well as the critical contributions of unexpected allies.

We are truly better together.

For a student of the Bible, this should come as no surprise.

As Matthew describes the beginning of Jesus’ mission, he tells of Jesus’ baptism and temptation in the wilderness – events in which the identity of Jesus as the Son of God is declared and then made evident through his resistance to all of the forces of evil.

Jesus leaves the wilderness a victor.

One might imagine that Jesus would continue in this trajectory of unilateral action and march on the halls of power, a supernatural, yet real-life action hero, sworn to defeat all that is wrong with creation and human society and restore all that is right. 

Almost immediately, the story takes an unexpected turn. Getting wind of John the Baptist’s imprisonment, Jesus makes a strategic withdrawal to the hill country of Galilee, well out of the center of action in Roman Judea. It is not his agenda, however, to lay low until the trouble has blown over. Rather, he goes to Galilee to declare the arrival of the reign of God, the revelation of divine authority in its fullest expression.

And how is this full expression of the power and authority of God revealed?

It is realized in the gathering together of an unlikely fellowship of people –  four fishermen and a host of others from all over the place, into a community. There, he meets their needs of healing, teaches them the nature of true blessing and calls them into life as agents of the reign of God.

While it’s easy, for those who know how this story goes, to see the calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John as a summons into the lives of missionaries and evangelists, that will not come until later. For now, their calling is to be together, with Jesus and all the others who are drawn into his circle.

They are better together.

Even at the end of Matthew, when Jesus sends out the eleven with his famous “Great Commission,” he promises them his continual presence. He will be with them until the end of time. To be is to be together.

Academic work frequently feels like a solo project. Even those of us who are not students are often led to believe that we will make what we make of ourselves on our own. Yet none of us will make the most of our gifts flying solo. None of us can make the difference we’re hoping for, lead the lives of significance we dream of, make the change we want to see, on our own. We are always better together. 

This togetherness requires patience with ourselves and others. It requires that we recognize not only our own giftedness, but that of others, not as competition, but as a complement. 

God has called us into life. It is a life together, with God and one another.

It is a life of blessing.

 

Pr. Jim

Jan. 22, 2020

University Pastor James Wetzstein and Deaconess Kristin Lewis take turns writing weekly reflections. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here