Last week I anxiously drafted a letter. It struck me as the responsible thing to do. Recently, the donations for one of the non-profits I lead took a dip in a season where expenses are on the rise. How inconvenient. The loudest most noticeable voice in my head was a stern one that said, “Don’t wait. Act now. Be responsible.”
That voice of traditional responsibility came through loud and clear but it was dissatisfying and not altogether trustworthy.
I was left with a lingering question.
How often does God’s unorthodox ways of abundance clash with our traditional understanding of responsibility?
I put off sending that letter after being reminded of one of the quirkier stories of Jesus.
Jesus was sitting in a house with his disciples when a couple of tax guys show up to collect the temple tax. When Peter answered the door I’d imagine he was caught off guard with the severe wedgy of powerlessness.
The temple tax went against everything Jesus and the disciples stood for. State controlled institutionalized religion with all of its lies and legalistic abuse was everything they sought to abolish.
Jesus' response in the moment has to be one of the more comical comebacks in all the gospels. “Go to the lake. Throw in a line. Catch a fish. Dig into its mouth and you’ll find a coin to pay the tax.”
In order to truly appreciate this response I believe we have to stop sterilizing the profound strangeness of the scriptures and especially the quirky unorthodox ways of Jesus. The reality is if this story was a tv sitcom the producer would have pushed the laugh track button immediately after Jesus said what he did.
In the face of tension, considering the ridiculous injustice of that tax, Jesus was whimsical.
He knew it would have been pointless to start a fight with the poor tax collectors and it wasn’t time to march over to the temple to flip the tables over. That time would come.
This was a time for comedy… for whimsy.
“God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.” ~ Voltaire
Last week I spoke with a group of junior high students and I facilitated a Poverty Walk. It’s a pretty serious exercise where participants walk around a small section of Denver seeking to place themselves in the position of poverty and learn some of the deeper realities that they may overlook while living life in the burbs.
Last week as one of the students participated by panhandling with the “Anything Helps” sign a homeless man approached the young woman to ask how she was doing. Next, he pulls some cash out of his pocket, hands her 2 dollars and compassionately tells her about the various resources around Denver where she could find some help.
I’ve been leading these exercises for 5 years now and I’ve lost count as to how many times that scenario – a street dweller stopping to help – has took place.
The student will stand there stunned and speechless. “What do I say?” they ask me.
This is whimsical Jesus in the flesh.
Full of paradox and parody God seems to get a big kick out of using the “foolish things of the world to confound the wise.”
Far too often we’ve got our heads too far up our nether regions to notice. Our process for making decisions has been conditioned far more by American ideals of responsibility than by prayer. Me, I’m guilty of coasting on auto-pilot. Too often my mind becomes divorced from my soul and I miss out on the divine foolishness that is uniquely packaged just for me.
These days God’s whimsical foolishness often comes my way through something my 7 or 4 year old will do or say. I wonder how often the good stuff occurs right under my nose while I’m occupied with something “important” or while I’m busy being angry at how “irresponsible” they are.
I’m convinced that good Christian people have an awful habit of confusing the ways of Christ with old school notions of responsibility. (Such as throwing a fit for hearing "Happy Holidays rather than "Merry Christmas" from secular merchants!)
The anxious responsible side of me wonders if Peter ever caught that fish and if he responsibly paid the tax. We’ll never know so can we assume that maybe that wasn’t the point of the story?
From this season and from this story the question I ask myself is this, can we pause amidst our cultural and personal tensions to capture the whimsical and even “irresponsible” ways of God?
Lord knows we need more delight in our life. We long to experience the divine surprises. The legalism, abuse of authority, the oppressively religious ways of the powerful are so damned predictable. We’ve become cynical and perpetually exhausted by it.
The arc toward justice will almost always be unpredictable and the leadership of our justice movements will likely be perceived as irresponsible in the same way the pious ones perceived Jesus.
Constantly creating division among the religious crowds Jesus creatively revealed the difference between awakened faith and traditional notions of christian responsibility.
In our longings for a more just and honest world and a deeper faith-filled consciousness are we willing to risk following The (irresponsible whimsical) Way?