Blaming the victim, by Pastor Noel

March 23/24, 2019     3 Lent, C


      There’s a satirical post on Facebook—an interview with the panther who, the news says, attacked the woman at the zoo.

      “Attacked!” says the panther.

      “I was only protecting my home. Standing my ground.”

      Like many others, I think the headlines for that story should have been, “Woman invades panther’s space.”

      When we blame the panther, we blame the victim. And that’s a very popular way these days. Maybe all days.

      Blame the victim and we don’t have any responsibility.

      Blame poor people for being poor when they are working two or three jobs, just to get by.

      If we make it their fault, we have no responsibility to change the system and help them.

      And headlines about attacks—more often than not the victims are the headlines. “Woman assaulted.” “50 killed in shooting.”

      Shouldn’t we say, “Man assaults woman.” or “Shooter kills….”

      Put the blame the attacker, the instigator, not the one attacked, the victim.

      It’s so ingrained that we need a reminder to change the way we read news like that.

      That’s what Jesus says about the tragedies in the gospel.

      Were the victims in these stories worse sinners than the rest of us? Were they responsible for their deaths?

      “No,” says Jesus. “But unless you change your minds, you’ll suffer the same fate.” Repent means change your mind, have different ideas.

      He’s not threatening them with violence. He’s saying that we need compassion and mercy, not blame and guilt.

      Jesus is saying that we ALL need to change our minds about blaming the victim. We will all perish—and we need to change how we think about it. Otherwise, when we die, folks will say that we were bad sinners and caused our own deaths. Time for a new idea!

      Jesus is inviting us to turn away from what the culture says is right, and follow him in God’s way, the really right way.

      For Jesus’ Jewish hearers, this blame is wrong in two ways. It puts the blame on the wrong people. It denies the covenant between them and God. A God of love and compassion and mercy is not a God of arbitrary violence.

      Or any violence. Jesus calls them to turn away from those false ideas and turn back to God. 

      Turn away from—whatever, and turn to God.

      Moses got that same invitation.

      When he encountered God in the burning bush, he “turned aside.” He turned from his former life and he turned toward God.

      And the world has never been the same since.

      The Collect for today says that we have “no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

      That reminds me of one of my favorite Psalms, 121. “I lift my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

      My help doesn’t come from me.

      That kind of thinking is called hubris.

      Hubris says that I don’t need God, or anyone else, just me.

      Hubris comes from ancient Greek, and means exaggerated pride or self-confidence. The dictionary says that hubris was “considered a dangerous character flaw capable of provoking the wrath of the gods. Hubris was often a fatal shortcoming that brought about the fall of the tragic hero.”

      Hubris leads us to think that we are God.

      We are called, instead, to be humble. To recognize that God is God and we are not.

      Called to change our minds and our lives and reach out to God who will, in amazing and wonderful ways, open our eyes to find what we need. 

      Paul is writing about that, too. He finds people in Corinth who think that baptism gives them free rein to live as they want.

      He reminds them of their ancestors who said “yes!” to being God’s people, and then ignored that promise.

      We hear this theme over and over in the Hebrew Scriptures.

      God tells the people how they should live, and they say, “OK”, and then go back to the old ways. Then something happens that reminds them that they are God’s people, and they change their ways.

      Then they go back to their old ways…..  and then something happens…..

      God is infinitely patient and merciful, and keeps calling us back to live in that mercy, for us and for others.

      That’s what Jesus’ story of the fig tree is about.

      When I was in seminary I went to St. John the Evangelist and heard this gospel chanted.

      I was not used to hearing the gospel chanted, and wondered especially about chanting about manure.

      Today I think of that manure as whatever will feed us with God’s goodness and help us turn to God, again and again.

      God doesn’t give up on us.

      Bishop Jake Owensby writes, “Notice that the gardener does whatever it takes to promote the fig tree’s growth and fruitfulness. In other words, God is up to the divine elbows making from life’s manure the very stuff of new life.”

      Today we are remembering Jim Terry, from St. John’s, with great fondness and sadness.

      He gave that new life to our churches by starting Soup to the Docks. This is an amazing way of sharing God’s love—way beyond what a small group like us usually does.

      Like the free Sunday suppers here at Ascension.

      God is always giving us new chances to change from whatever we have been to wherever God will lead us.

      What do we need to change to live more fully as God’s people? How can we show our communities that God’s love and mercy are always here?

      My prayer for us is that we will let the rest of Lent (and beyond!) be time for God’s manure to fill us with new life, new ideas, new ways to be God’s people. May love and mercy abound!

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details