Thrown under the bus
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'”
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
My mother could not tell a lie. Honesty had been instilled in her and was as essential to her as her own life’s blood.
It may be in part for that reason that my mother never told jokes, did not like fantasy, science fiction or cartoons, because to her they were not real and she always had problem with things that were not the truth.
I remember her telling me that when she left my father, one of the last straws was that one day he asked her to call up the school where he worked and tell the school that he was sick.
There were other reasons to leave him, maybe reasons far worse than those, but the audacity of him asking her to lie no matter how trivial, was like sticking a knife in her own ribs.
And maybe this all went back to the first time and maybe the only time her father, my grandpa spanked her.
(Remember this was about eighty years when spankings were the norm for disobedient children.)
She was about four years old and she had taken crayons and coloured the wallpaper in the house.
When her dad asked her if she had coloured on the wall, she did what most siblings do, she threw under younger brother Alan under the bus and said that Alan did it.
The only problem with that is that, was that Alan was a baby and not physically capable of colouring on the wall.
My Grandfather Alan MacGowan, was one of the gentlest souls in the world, a kind peaceable man, truly a Christ-like man, but the one thing he could not stand was lying.
He punished my mother who never, ever forgot it and she probably never lied willingly again in her life.
Me, I wasn’t such a quick study as my mother, who seemed to learn in one lesson to behave. My recollection was that it took quite a few disciplinary occasions in my life to set me on the straight and narrow and there are some who think that I never quite made the straight and narrow.
But the interesting thing about the story of my mother lying, was the first lie she told was to throw little Alan under the bus, to try and save her own skin.
She didn’t learn to lie from grandma or Grandpa. She didn’t learn to lie from watching bad shows on television. There was no television.
The point is that she didn’t have to learn to lie, it came naturally to her.
And what was natural is to blame somebody else to save her own skin.
That seems to be human nature.
In fact the Philosopher and Theologian Rene Girard believed that this was the mechanism that basically held societies together: Scapegoating.
You throw somebody under the bus.
He explained it this way. We all learn to desire things by imitating what others desire. However when we start desiring what others desire then it brings us into competition or conflict or rivalry with another. This conflict or rivalry would often end up in violence. The way societies lesson the tension and the conflict and the violence, is to find a scapegoat to literally and symbolically throw under the bus and create peace, at least for the moment.
Girard saw this as the basis for most religion. Religion often included sacrifices, and these sacrifices were ritual scapegoat mechanisms that channeled the violence of communities to these symbolic acts of violence, therefore these sacrifices were acts of social stabilization.
Girard understood the bible as a story to expose this whole act of scapegoating and violence. That from the story of Abel to the story of Jesus, the bible seeks to show us that it is wrong to scapegoat, be violent, and to blame others. Girard teaches that Jesus exposed this scapegoating mechanism, by being the innocent victim who died on a cross; and who taught us to build our society on love instead of blame and scapegoating and violence.
I don’t know about you exactly. Have you ever been thrown under the bus?
Have you ever thrown somebody under the bus?
The term “throwing somebody under the bus” is actually a relatively recent term in the annals of human history. The earliest uses of it seemed to refer back to politics in England in the early 1990’s but had gained a lot of popularity.
Throwing somebody under the bus, is a term used to refer to a person making an other look bad, or even lying about them, to further their own agenda.
In the last ten or 12 years or so, it is something your will find is referred to in politics all the time. If you look through political references you will find all kinds of references to some politician or other who is supposed to have thrown somebody or some people under the bus in order to make themselves look good or further their campaign.
In fact in one article I read, in the online magazine “The New Inquiry” the article entitled The Scapegoating Machine by Geoff Schullenberger suggested that Donald Trump used scapegoating very powerfully and effectively to win the presidency scapegoating the media, immigrants, refugees, Mexicans, Hillary Clinton, the entrenched political system, Muslims, Global Warming…and so on…
The happens all the time with professional sports teams who start losing, you cannot fire the whole team, so usually one player or a coach, or a general manager is picked as the fall guy and fired.
It might not be their fault, but something has to happen.
The Oilers have fired a head coach and a General manager this year.
In fact I would suggest that whenever we get in trouble one of our first instincts is to say it is not our fault and to shift some of the blame to someone else.
Whenever I cannot find a tool in the house, I immediately think it’s my kids or my wife who had moved it and not put it back.
I remember dropping a casserole one time and my first words were to kids was: “If you hadn’t been making so much noise.”
How many people put all the blame on their spouses when there are marital issues.
And believe me it is much easier to blame and point fingers and find out the culprits when something isn’t working, than it is to sit down and actually work together for solutions.
Just look at governments. The United States government actually shut down for a long time because they couldn’t work together.
And in Canada is it any different? If you are not the political party in power, you spend the majority of your time criticizing whatever the party in power does.
Why don’t these grown adults all sit down together and work out solutions to problems?
The whole deal it seems to be in politics these days is to throw people under the bus.
I’ve been thrown under the bus before. You know that old saying about you cannot please all the people all the time. That is so true for ministers.
I know what it is like to be the scapegoat in churches when there are issues that people cannot deal with.
And today in our gospel lesson we read about the first time that Jesus is thrown under the bus. He reads from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And then he says that today this scripture has been fulfilled in your presence.
But it doesn’t take long for the crowd to turn on him and throw him under the bus.
Actually the plan was for them to throw him off a cliff.
What happened? People had heard about him. Just before this we read that he was teaching in the synagogues and a report was spreading all around about him and he was praised by everyone.
We can only surmise based on what Jesus read and what he said:
He read from the Book of Isaiah, a chapter or portion of scripture that was fairly well known, and one that people cherished.
They cherished it because they saw themselves as the victims. They were the poor and the oppressed under the nasty Romans.
They had been the poor and oppressed under the Assyrians, under the Bablyonians, under the Egyptians, under the Syrians and under the Greeks.
And right now it was the Romans.
They were looking for the Messiah to free them and make them richer…
But when Jesus came, initially they all thought that Jesus was affirming their idea that they were the poor and oppressed, but when Jesus said that today the scripture was fulfilled, they started questioning. Is he talking about the Romans as the oppressors or is he talking about us?
And Jesus goes on to make the point that the prophet Elijah helped a widow and there were many widows in Israel, but he helped a foreign widow.
And Jesus goes on to say that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha, but the only leper Elisha healed was a Syrian general called Namaan.
The point is made that the Israelites are not only captives to the Roman, but they hold people in captivity. They despise and hate and hold grudges and exclude and want revenge and violence on their enemies. Are they any different than the Romans?
They are blind to love for all, to peace for all, to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity.
If you actually go back to the scripture in Isaiah, Isaiah 61, you will find that Jesus leaves out a line. He doesn’t say: and the day of vengeance of our God.
They are mad that Jesus sees them as oppressors. They are mad that Jesus leaves out vengeance. They are mad that Syrians are included in the good news.
And there is one other thing I think they are mad at. Jesus talked about the year of the Jubilee; It is called the year of God’s favour. Every fifty years according to the Law of Moses, is the year of Jubilee
It was a time for property to be transferred back to the original families that owned them, often because farmers would lose their land to rich people through debt and exorbitant interest.
It was a time for slaves to return home and debts to be forgiven.
As far as I know there is no historical evidence to actually show that a Jubilee was ever held…
But the year of the Jubilee is not good news for everyone….
Especially those who hold on to excessive wealth power and privilege…
Walter Brueggeman one of the most noted Old Testament Scholars in the world notes in one of his sermons that Jubilee “is not just a kind thought or a good intention or a religious idea. It is about money and property being transferred” (Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann).
This often brings about discomfort in the church. It is one thing to talk about compassion for other and love for others…
It’s a whole other thing to talk about transferring property and money into the hands of the poor because as Brueggeman writes: it flies in the face of “our deep practices of accumulation and our intense yearning to have ours and keep ours and make it grow” (Inscribing the Text).
Churches often don’t like to talk too much about money. Just try to get people on a Stewardship committee to raise money.
So Jesus was saying to the Jewish people, you are not just oppressed, but oppressors…
And to be very frank, the word from the Lord today is not just that we are oppressed, and we might be oppressed by sin, or addiction, or by worry, or poverty or by ill health…
…but the word for the Lord is that we oppress…
We know how to hate and to want vengeance. We know how to exclude and put down and accuse and criticize.
We know how to hoard and accumulate and participate in an economic and political system that can disadvantage the poor, or women, or children, or aboriginals, or those with mental illness and other.
And they threw him under the bus. We all know how Jesus died on a cross… How Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities threw Jesus under the bus.
They scapegoated Jesus, and in one sense Jesus knew that this was his destiny, that he was always going to end up under the bus…
In order to show us the other way to be in this world. And that is love for everyone.
And to be perfectly honest, we all know how to throw Jesus under the bus.
He says he was hungry and we didn’t feed him.
He was naked and we didn’t clothe him.
He was scared and needed a safe place.
He was a refugee and he needed a home.
He was a criminal and he need a visit and forgiveness.
And we weren’t there for him.
And we say: When was that Jesus? And he replies, inasmuch as you didn’t do it for the most insignificant person on earth you didn’t do it to me.
We’ve all thrown Jesus under the bus.
But Jesus shows us, as Paul writes, a more excellent way:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. Now abide faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.
One hundred and sixty years ago Charles Dickens wrote; A Tale of Two Cities.
It is a tale set in the time of the French Revolution, a story about the injustice visited upon the poor, but also the injustice and cruelty and violence of the mob.
And one of the themes of the novel is resurrection.
Doctor Manette is release from the Bastille after 18 years and it is talked about as being recalled to life or resurrection.
Doctor Manette’s daughter Lucie marries Charles Darnay who is looks remarkably like Sydney Carton, one of the lawyers who defended Darnay and managed his acquittal.
Sydney Carton too loves Lucie, and tells her one time that he loves her, and though she does not love him the same and will marry Darnay, he would embrace any sacrifice for her and for those dear to her.
Later on we find out that Darnay is really a French nobleman come away from France because of the troubles.
And when Darnay goes back to France to rescue a friend he is arrested and held in prison for quite some time. Eventually there is a trial and he is basically doomed to be executed merely for his noble birth.
Sydney Carton ends up in Paris and after paying a jailer to let him into the jail to see Darnay, he drugs Darnay, switches clothes with Darnay and has the jailer haul out Darnay as him, because remember they look remarkably alike; and Carton stays in jail to be executed in Darnay’s place.
Just before he is guillotined Sydney Carton says:
It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.
Carton’s sacrifice is the last time the theme of resurrection is present in the book. It symbolizes that Carton is resurrected from a dissolute life to a life of service and purpose; and a life lived for love and for Christ.
Carton lets himself be thrown under the bus to save Darnay and therefore also Lucie and her family
It is a picture of Christ, who was thrown under the bus for us.
We know what it is like to be thrown under the bus.
We know what it is like to throw somebody under the bus, even Christ.
But do we know how to go under the bus because we love others, even our rivals and enemies? I am not sure I know how.
That is called taking up a cross and it is very, very hard to do. Amen