Isn't This David's Son?
Luke 4: 14 - 21
Whenever I hear this enormous advice about doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God—coupled with the obvious query about David's son—I get very nervous. The implication is clear. "Isn't this (just) David's son?" Is this the one who is telling us about justice and mercy and humility? How dare such a little one make such a big claim!
I am reminded in my nervousness of a New Yorker Cartoon in which a guy is holding a telephone to his ear. "Could you hold on just a minute? I need to collect my thoughts. I haven't spoken to a real person for a long time."
In this text, we have a real person, making a really big message, almost as though it was his right to do so. Almost as though it was real for normal people to do great things.
And that, of course, is the point that David's son is making. We ordinary people are to do extraordinary things.
We may think we are just talking to a machine but we are talking to a real person and a real Savior. We may think we are just a cog in a machine when actually we're genuinely citizens, genuinely in charge of our nations' course. What we say and think matters. Our votes direct bombs, which direct life. We are in charge of ourselves. As the US Constitution says, "We the people." We the people are quite ordinarily in charge of the extraordinary.
Jesus' words have an extraordinary resemblance to the U.S. Constitution. This is the preamble:
We the people of the Untied States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Note that we do the extraordinary in the plural, not in the singular. That alone eases my nervousness—except for what I know about trying to get people to do things together!
We might do well to learn some lessons from geese. As each bird flies in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if the bird flew alone. Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the "lifting power" of the bird
immediately in front. Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go, and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to the others.
When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position. Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and share leadership with people, as with geese, we are interdependent on each other.
The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging—and not something else.
When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock. Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
Democracy could do well to be guided by geese. They do justice, love mercy, and fly humbly with their God.
E.M. Forster advises us "to raise three cheers for democracy although at the present she only deserves two." Too many of the geese are out of formation. The wind has been blowing for a long time, hard against the geese and against their hope.
Anatole Broyard, as quoted by Henry Louis Gates in the NEW YORKER, June 17, 1996, said that "People in the city have therapists; they think the problem is existential. People in the country have handymen; they think it is structural." Those of us who follow Jesus know the problem with democracy is both, both in and outside of us. What we need is a Savior. But the Savior has to be ordinary in order to be extraordinary enough to lead us.
And surely David's son is just that.
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