Those people? Reflections 1-31-19

Texts for Sunday February 3, 2019
4th Sunday after Epiphany
Dr. Avishai  Teicher Pikiwiki Israel 

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6
1 Cor 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Implicit bias. 
Have you heard that phrase? Our Adult Forum last Sunday had a great presentation on that topic by a PhD student in Sociology this past Sunday. You can watch Rachel Maller’s presentation on Gloria Dei Live by clicking here.

An implicit bias is an attitude or stereotype that influences our actions, understanding, or decisions in an unconscious manner. This, as you can imagine impacts us in many different ways in many situations. 

I am bringing this up because implicit bias can be one lens through which to look at the response of the folks from Nazareth to their hometown boy-made-good in our Gospel for this Sunday. 

These verses are the end of the story from last Sunday. In fact, the two sections share the bridge verse: Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. The headline “Hometown son announces that he is Messiah” caused the residents to be amazed, some translations say marveled. 

What would you do with that kind of revelation by someone you knew well? Maybe you were a babysitter or maybe you went to school together or maybe your moms set play dates when you were young. “He was a great guy, but Messiah? Hmmm. Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Think about this; what implicit biases might be involved?

Next thought others might think is “I wonder how we could make this work for us. This could put Nazareth on the map.” Can you see any unconscious assumptions there?

Right around then, when folks were either starting to dismiss the claim or starting to think about how they could use this claim, Jesus decided to tell them a bit more about his mission. First, he makes it clear that he did not come to Nazareth to set up shop as “Wonder Worker” for the locals. He “warns” them that what he has said, and what he is about to say arises from the role of prophet. “Prophet” was not an easy vocation for the one holding it. The earlier prophets spoke truth to power. They challenged the leaders and the people of God to stop whatever it was that was drawing them away from God and to turn back to God. Depending on their opinion – conscious or unconscious - of prophets, the people could have been impressed or could have decided that this guy thinks he is better than us and that we are not living faithfully. 

Jesus wraps up his speech with stories from the Old Testament revealing a part of his mission that we have not heard from him yet (there was a hint of that in Luke 2:28-29, from the mouth of the old man, Simeon). Jesus’ mission of bringing good news to the poor, the broken, the captive, the blind, the oppressed was extended to those people outsiders, aliens, outcasts, Gentiles. The stories that Jesus used at that moment illustrated that God had already, in the past, cared for those people: a Gentile widow and a Gentile leper.

Here a darker side of biases take hold in the crowd. All negative attitudes and stereotypes about Gentiles pour into the reaction: Gentiles are not worthy of God’s attention; we are God’s chosen people; God’s care is exclusively ours
The text says that all were filled with rage. 

Actually, I really don’t know that I can claim implicit bias for these actions. It certainly seems like something beyond rational thought has taken hold of the crowd to reject Jesus’ mission and to move that quickly to rage and violence. 

The enraged crowd drags Jesus outside the side to a high hill to “hurl him off”. Theologically, that foreshadows a later crowd’s anger - “Crucify” - and Jesus being led to a hill to be killed. 

The first question is where was God revealed in this story?
The next is in what way can Jesus’ mission today produce rage and violence? What is our response in that case?

Then, finally, implicit or not, I think our country’s biases and prejudices need some attention right now. Our leaders are wielding their power from something like bias, prejudice, or privilege to the detriment of those to whom Jesus’ mission was directed. What is our role as citizens?

Note: To be fair, there have been recent controversies about the usefulness of the concept of implicit bias. As often happens these days, the debates have gotten more heated and divisive, moving from scientific journals to popular press. Some researchers have said that identifying implicit biases does not predict discriminatory actions any better than explicit statements of belief. Other people also feel that it is an excuse that people can use to not take responsibility for their actions - “I didn’t consciously do that”.

In a Scientific American article, Keith Payne, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill, tries to find a middle ground in the discussion. Implicit bias isn’t the only thing at work and isn’t even necessarily the most important predictor of a person’s action. But we do need to recognize biases are at work - from wherever they come: 
It would be comforting to conclude, when we don’t consciously entertain impure intentions, that all of our intentions are pure. Unfortunately, we can’t conclude that: many of us are more biased than we realize. And that is an important cause of injustice—whether you know it or not.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

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Iowa City, IA 52245