It's Up To Us - Jesus and Organizing from the Margins


Have you ever had your “five minutes of fame”? There is this saying that says everybody, at some point in their life, get's their five minutes of fame – that is to say, their moment in the spotlight when they are at the center of things, when they are important and the world is looking at them. An example would be when Meghan's brother was invited to a hockey cup party with the Red Wings. He met some of the most famous hockey players of all time, and even got to hold the Stanley Cup.

Have you ever had a 5-minutes of fame experience? Turn to someone next to you and tell them about a time that you have, or almost have.

The reason that having 5 minutes a fame is such a big deal is because most of us spend our lives outside of the spotlight and the center of things. We rarely have a chance to be the main focal point, and even more rarely feel like what we say or do has any impact on the larger society, culture, or government. We see the people who are at the center of things – movie stars, politicians, CEOs of big companies – as almost untouchable super-people that have more influence than we can even imagine having.

But here's the shocker; according to Jesus, WE are more important and have more power and influence that those people! How could THAT be?! You might ask.

Let's look at what Jesus does in the gospel today. He has just finished fasting in the wilderness for 40 days, and has returned to civilization to begin his ministry. Jesus' mission was to challenge the very centers of power – the religious elites and Roman leaders that supported them. He intended to call them out for the way they were abusing and using the common people for their own benefit.

So where did he go? Did he march to the temple, the center of the religious leader's power, and the seat of all political, economic, and social life for the Jewish people? No. Instead, he did the opposite. He went to the synagogues. Who here has ever seen a synagogue? Can you tell me what it was like?

So, today, synagogues are thought of in the same way as churches of today – as buildings where people gather for religious worship. But like the early church, the synagogues of Jesus' day were quite different. A synagogue actually referred to the gathering of people in a Jewish village or town, not a building. The synagogues would gather once or more a week, for prayer and reading scripture, but also to discuss important business and political issues for the town, as well as pass legal judgments. It was really the center of life in the villages where farming families made a subsistence living off of the land. If the religious leaders and Romans were like the Tom Cruzes and Donald Trumps of today, then the people in the synagogues were more like the people gathered in this room, except much more on the fringes of things. They were the most effected by the decisions made by people in the power centers, and were suffering more and more because of the taxes and offerings that the wealthy leaders were demanding of them. But, in the Roman system, they had no say at all in decision making beyond their own town politics. Have you heard the phrase “no taxation without representation” from the American revolution? Well, taxation without representation was an unquestioned norm in Jesus' time, and the ones who suffered most from it were the rural working peoples of the villages. These folks never even had 5 seconds of fame, and would never have thought of themselves as significant in creating a change in the political structures that so deeply influenced their lives.

But then Jesus stepped in and started preaching a different message. He strolled into the local synagogue of his hometown, a po-dunk little village called Nazareth which was basically a dusty pit-stop on the road to the coast. He proclaimed that is was to the people in that synagogue, and the synagogues of the other villages he was preaching in, that the good news of God's liberation of people from poverty and exploitation was to begin taking place. No wonder everyone stared at him! What did they have to do with God creating a whole new kingdom, a new power structure for all the people of Israel?

You see, Jesus believed in a concept that is still in practice today, among many of those who fight for justice and change. It is called “organizing from the margins”. This principle assumes that it is actually not the appointed powerholders but the people most impacted by political decisions who are the most important to making society and political systems change. Jesus' message was simple, yet very intense: God was calling those marginalized people from the villages to be the crucial leaders in what his Son was about to do – to challenge the very foundations of power in the Roman Empire.

If that was Jesus message then, how does it translate to now? Could the Nazareth of Michigan be Southwest Detroit? We have to admit, we are literally as far on the fringes of the power centers as we can be – on the edge of the city, 5 miles from city hall, Over 100 miles from the capital, in the most polluted zip code in the state. Its pretty difficult to image residence of southwest as making things change downtown in the mayor's office, let along in the state capital where governor Snyder is in charge.

But if we really take Jesus seriously, that is exactly what he is saying. We are the ones God is calling to change the very foundations of the political system that is polluting our air, poisoning children in Flint, and developing Detroit and other cities like it in favor of big business instead of local residents. We are the ones that Jesus' wants at the for-front of changing all of that.

QUESTIONS: So let me ask you, if you live in Southwest Detroit, what does it mean for YOU that GOD is calling US to be at the forefront of changing the realities that negatively impact our community and communities across Michigan? And if you aren't a resident of Southwest Detroit, how is God calling you to get behind what He is already doing through the residents of Southwest Detroit and neighborhoods like it who are on the fringes of power in our city and state?