Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20
Ordinary 21A; Proper 16
“It’s who you know.”
Ever heard that phrase? Numerous friends have shared stories of jobs gotten or denied, acknowledging that often the difference has been who they knew, or who they didn’t. Connections matter. Having someone vouch for us, introduce us or facilitate a conversation can open the door to the job, the loan or the college admission. I have decried the unfairness of this reality, but boy have I called on those relationships when they worked in my favor! I can’t count on my fingers and toes how many times being the pastor of a local Presbyterian church has put me in the front of the line. My child got into the class that was otherwise full or a slot opened up at that practice with the highly recommended doctor or the mortgage was approved with speed. The list goes on and while I didn’t always seek out these favors, I never once turned them down. Even if, from time to time, I recognized that when I accepted these privileges someone else was denied them.
It’s who you know. Hence, the push to get into colleges with well-connected alumni and the admonition to network and the scramble to get close to those with power and influence.
The danger, of course, in such positioning is that there is no guarantee that those you know will remain in positions of power and influence. The danger is that they may fall from grace and you will go down with them. The danger, of course, is that you begin to assume that who you know is all you need and then, suddenly, a new king arises over Egypt and you are no longer known or in the know. Vulnerable. Pushed out. Oppressed instead of favored. Replaced.
That’s what happens in a who-you-know system. Worth is not inherent. Identity is contingent. Equity non-existent. People quickly get commodified, functionalized and eventually dehumanized.
A new king rose over Egypt who did not know Joseph and the ruthless oppression of the Israelites began. Oppression is easy when we don’t know the people we are oppressing. No longer is it Joseph or Joseph’s brother or daughter or cousin. It is the unknown other, an amorphous group, hardly human, really. Not neighbors to be loved, but competitors to be feared.
It’s who you know in Egypt. It’s who you know in your hometown. True then for Joseph, true now for far too many where you live and work and have your being.
The who-you-know economy is alive and well and those of us who benefit from it work hard to sustain it. It gives us advantages — even though we know they are unearned, even when we know the favors we are granted oppress those who aren’t in the know. The irony of this truth for Christians is that Jesus trades in an entirely different currency. Our worth and favor is not granted by the people in high places we know, but from the One in the highest place who knows us and claims us and names us.
While during any given administration we may be a faceless, expendable commodity to the king, we are an irreplaceable child of God to the King of Kings for eternity.
When we know and proclaim who Jesus is – The Messiah, the Son of the Living God – our worth and our identity is no longer dependent upon who occupies the halls of ever-changing earthly power. Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. The gates of hell won’t prevail against the church. Christ’s body with its multi-gifted members will survive, no matter what Pharaoh and his ilk throw at it or us. We don’t need the king of Egypt to affirm our humanity because the Messiah has taken it upon himself and redeemed it.
Unfortunately, many of us who proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, still trade in the who-you-know currency of the earthly king, no matter that in so doing others are ruthlessly oppressed. We don’t want to be replaced.
That’s the chant that echoed through the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville a few weeks ago. “They will not replace us.” “Jews will not replace us.” Those yelling refuse to relinquish the king’s favor and all the privileges that come with that close connection. And they do not care who they crush, kill or intimidate to keep it. They don’t see neighbors to love, they see competitors to be feared.
But Jesus doesn’t trade it that currency. Jesus’ currency is not the currency of hate. Not the currency of oppression. Not the currency of dehumanizing. Not the currency of violence. Not the currency of fear. His power comes from sacrificial love and he doesn’t replace people, he continually adds to the body.
Perhaps if those so afraid of losing their favor with the earthly king could experience the transformative love of the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, they might put down their torches, shields and AK-47s. I know that sounds naïve, but we live in hope, don’t we?
At one point on Saturday, August 12, I found myself standing beside a young, African- American woman from “over the mountain” about 40 miles West of Charlottesville. She is an Episcopal priest who’d heard and heeded the call to come support area faith leaders. As we talked we could hear chants coming from the park where the Unite the Right rally was to be held at noon. They grew louder and angrier, audible even above the din of the helicopters hovering overhead. The chant that wafted into the Methodist church parking lot was filled with expletives and invectives. My new friend shook her head and looked down. Then she looked up and said something that I didn’t expect: “There are a lot of hurting people over there.”
She added: “There is no joy over in that park. They are hurting.”
Her grace caught me off guard and I think my expression revealed my surprise because she continued: “We have to remember that they are hurting because we need to be the church for them, too. If we forget that, we’ve lost everything that really matters.”
In that moment, I felt that all my faith fit into a thimble while hers overflowed into the menacing streets outside our protected parking lot.
She was rock solid in who Jesus is and therefore who we are called to be, and no earthly power – no matter how ruthlessly oppressive – was going to make her forget it.
When we know how beloved and irreplaceable we are to God, we don’t fear about being replaced by others. We remember that pharaohs come and go, but Jesus reigns forever. We aren’t afraid because we have the gift of the peace that passes understanding. We trade in love, not hate and that is the unshakable foundation upon which Christ will build the church – the church that gates of hell cannot prevail against, the church for every beloved, irreplaceable person.
We need to introduce those who are hurting and afraid to the One we know: The Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the One who knows us, claims us, names us, forgives us and frees us forever.
- When has “who you know” been to your advantage? Did your advantage disadvantage another?
- When have you been moved to confess your faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God?
- Compare this Sunday’s reading from Matthew with Matthew 14:22-33. Pay particular attention to verse 33.
- Read today’s Gospel lesson and then read Matthew’s passion narrative. Note 26:63, 27:40, 27:43 and 27:54. What do you make of all these connections?
- Look at the parallel Gospel texts: Mark 8:27-30 and Luke 9:18-21. What is unique about Matthew’s version of this story?
- Romans 12:1-8 lists different gifts. What gifts do you have to share with the body? Do we value all the variety of gifts or some more than others?
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