6 Dec. 2015 Justice Reflection, Luke 3:1-6
Luke names the seven most powerful men in that time and place, and their positions as overlords of the Jews -- but only as time- and place-markers, not as key figures in the important point of the story. The key figure is an unimportant eccentric in the wilderness, John the Baptist.
Why is John in the wilderness, instead of in the villages and cities where the people are? Many people, then as now, were in a wilderness: lost, confused, afraid, struggling, seeking shelter. John gives us a 1st Century GPS to help them find their way out:
"Prepare the way of the Lord -- straighten the paths, level the terrain, smooth the rough areas."
What are the crooked paths, the mountains and valleys, the rough spots in our communities today? What are the obstacles facing people struggling to make their way? What are our 21st Century GPS devices for helping them find their way out?
Equal rights. Literacy. Education. Health care. A living wage. Personal safety. These are basic needs and rights.
What is our role? First, acknowledging that our society has consigned large groups of people to the wilderness, and God is calling us to change our society. As Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel wrote: "Few are guilty, but all are responsible." Our faith must inform our politics.
Then, as Church, we are called to 'incarnate' with our brothers and sisters in the wilderness -- to be with them in the flesh. People outside the wilderness with maps are no use to the people lost in the middle. This is why John was in the wilderness rather than in the villages and cities!
To be with them in the flesh means to make our boundaries more porous to them, and to risk encroaching on their boundaries. This takes courage on both sides, but the connections and relationships our parish already has can facilitate.
And then we must listen. Listen to their fears, their hopes, their expectations, their needs as they see them. And trust that God will show us together the way out of the wilderness.