St. Augustine of Hippo


Episcopal Church

 


”Prophets Beware


July 8, 2018


The Reverend Nathanael Saint-Pierre


“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

Have you ever met someone who knew you when you were a baby? He has seen you growing in front of his very eyes, has changed your diapers and believes he know you inside-out, and has already made up his mind about who you are and what you can do? Have you ever been labeled as someone you deeply know you are not, this judgment being based on your country of origin, your skin color, an impediment you may have?

Jesus found himself in Nazareth, the town he was from, and where he was known by almost everyone.

You may remember that sentence from Nathanael: “Can anything good comes out of Nazareth?” How do we go beyond our prejudices to embrace someone and welcome him, despite his difference of view, origin, ethnicity, into our communities?

This text followed two great miracles performed by Jesus: in one, he healed a woman with a hemorrhage; in the second, he brought a young woman back to life. When he arrived in Nazareth, he was, at first, welcomed and received with praise, admiration, and amazement (you may also recall his triumphant entry into Jerusalem).  But once curiosity or in-depth analysis kicked in, as soon as oppressive systems were threatened, what the people knew about him started to influence their judgment. Admiration flipped into hostility; amazement flipped into rejection. We need to dig deeper into the reasons why such changes in behavior were extended to him. Maybe Nazareth was known for producing lunatics, crazies. You may remember a few chapters before, even Jesus’ parents went to get him under control because they believed he had lost his mind. Maybe, it was a colonized mentality. Israel was under occupation. The Nazarenes themselves were oppressed. The rejection of one of their own could have been a symptom of internalized oppression. Maybe, it was just jealousy or envy. It is human nature to sometimes feel so overshadowed by someone else’s success that we respond to it, not with the appreciation  of the manifestation of God’s love through him, but with the hostility of evil, willing to destroy what another can achieve.

I can only say that I have observed, rightly or wrongly, you’re free to decide for yourself, that in certain Black communities, we behave like the Nazarenes. We don’t specifically know why, but, sometimes, we become very jealous or envious to see one of our own succeed. Some of us may even have a justification for that: “The one who is successful develops a big head and doesn’t care about the pack anymore now that he has made a name for himself.” This is what some psychologists have named Internalized Oppression, and it is a big challenge that we need to overcome. In other communities, the minimal achievement of one member, a picture that has been taken, a song that has been written, a scrapbook that has been put together, insignificant works of art, are valued, appreciated and exhibited as community achievements. In our community, we laugh at people when they try to accomplish something.

As a Haitian immigrant, a Green Card holder in the USA, with a colonized mentality, internalized oppression has always been very real to me. I didn’t know it was possible, but reading the stories from many others, who, at the surface may seem very different from me, made internalized oppression even “more real.”

I am not sure if you have decided to imagine a community where we will put aside our doubts and embrace the manifestations of the presence of God in our peers and people with whom we share the same ancestry, but what a great community we could become if we could envision God’s transformative actions in building trust among one another. Because, let’s face it, colonization implanted in us distrust in each other. We could not trust the brother because he could be a spy for the master. We could not value his accomplishments  because he was put in a position of privilege that we coveted. The more divided we are, the better we contribute to make the oppressive system flourishing and powerful.

Jesus did not force himself to demonstrate his capability in the presence  of the naysayers. He did not try to convince the denigrators. He did not even address their disrespect. It is in the text that followed this first section, that he commissioned his disciples to go out, two-by-two, and teach with the very instruction that in places that they were welcomed to stay and teach more, but in places they were met with hostility, to shake the dust off their sandals and walk away.

What do we lose when we question the credibility of one of our own? Who do we think really becomes the loser? The people of Nazareth, who could have benefited not only from Jesus’ teaching, but  from his ability to bring the love of God into the midst of his people, lost a great opportunity. It is never beneficial to slam the door on people we don’t know or make people feel “other”. For every time we “other” people, devaluate people, denigrate people, become envious of people, become jealous of people, every time we’ve done these things to one of the little ones, we have closed the door on the face of Jesus.

God can use anyone to bring salvation. We can trust that God can enter into any thing, any one, at any time, to bring about his kingdom into the world. The purpose of a Christian community is to help people to grow until they reach the stature of Christ. It is important for us within the Black community that we reject that internalized oppression that made us feel so unworthy, to consider ourselves Godly and God-like. Although we’ve been living constantly in the shadow of a system that denied us access to its standards, it is our duty to change that narrative and to create Christian norms in which the diversity of the human race is a lot more important than the standards of beauty of the Kardashians. And it is my prayer that, no matter where we come from, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Providential, Haiti, or if we were born in North Carolina, South Carolina, Brooklyn, New York, we are all one and we will let God’s love help us to build up one another. Amen.