So much of the time, these are the stories we live by. Our families. Our friends. Our companies. Our churches. Our nations.
And they don’t end well. They don’t heal us, or the earth, or one another. They don’t make for flourishing.
But Jesus has a story too – a story of liberation, a story of reconciliation. And it’s not just a story for Jesus. It’s for all of us.
Between his birth and death and resurrection, Jesus lived a life, as we do. He liked to tell stories himself. And he lived a great story, one that many of us believe shows us the way to God and the way back to one another and even back to ourselves.
For six weeks, we hope to share about the Jesus story – largely from the Bible’s book of Luke – while exposing these other six stories we’ve been telling, and listening to, and following for too long.
Today, very briefly, domination.
You’d think that if someone were to be a prophet – to try to speak for God to us, and if people would claim that same person was actually God among us as well, then you’d think they’d claim the right to be in charge, that they would demand attention, and insist they’d be listened to.
And if that person were to leave a movement, and that movement were to become a religion, you’d think the founder would want to build a winning team, that would be more and more and more powerful and victorious.
But Jesus wasn’t like that at all.
Listen to Jesus’ big coming out party, as he announces his life mission to his hometown.
Luke 4:14-30 (CEB)
16 Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. 17 The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
20 He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”
22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips.
Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says he is here for people’s freedom – to show God’s favor, to bring liberation, to create wholeness in our lives and communities. He even edits one of the two scriptures he quotes – that passage originally announces the year of God’s favor and a year of God’s vengeance – when God will win, when God will punish God’s enemies. But Jesus says: that prophecy was only half right. It’s just the year of God’s favor.
God doesn’t need to dominate or punish or take vengeance, just heal, release, and free.
And people are like YEAH! This is so good.
But then some people are like – hey, Jesus is a hometown guy. We know him. What’s so special about him? And other people are like, hey, his parents weren’t even married. There’s definitely nothing special about him. And before they even start asking Jesus to prove himself, to show why they should listen to him, Jesus is like: I’m not going to bother. And anyway, what I have isn’t really for you. Or at least it’s not just for you.
This is not about me winning. And this is not about you or us winning together! God’s work on earth is bigger than that. This is about healing and freedom for everybody.
And then people try to run him off a cliff. You can read the rest of the passage on your own.
We so like to win, to dominate. It’s the first bad story people tell ourselves, maybe one of the oldest bad stories we’ve been telling our species now.
That if we can have what others don’t have, that if we can defeat others, that if we can win, be strongest, be most powerful, have the most market share, we will be happy.
It’s been the obsession of our local pro football team, to dominate, and with all due respect to football genius Bill Belicheck, he has been more dominant in his field than anyone else now or ever, and yet he does not seem like a happy man.
We live in a country that since the middle part of the last century has sought world domination. It’s become very important to our collective self-image and our national identity that we are the richest country on earth, the we are the best country on earth, that we have the most powerful military on earth, that we are the greatest nation on earth.
Whether or not any of those things are true or not, they are not important. Being committed to that kind of domination has stirred up and will continue to stir up all kinds of bad in us, and all kinds of harm in the world. It is not God’s project. God is not on the side of any person or people that seek to dominate. Period.
This will to dominate shows up in even more subtle ways than this. When I realized I have ADHD and started telling people about this part of me, this learning difference, what some people call this learning disability, people started wondering what I was doing about this.
And I’d be like: what do you mean, what am I doing? And they’d wonder what I was doing to not have to have the issues that come with having ADHD? I know the sickness now, so what is the cure? You know to beat it – to always be on time, to never forget or lose things, to stay focused and steady on stuff that bores me, to stop interrupting people by mistake, and other stuff that people assume I’d want: to be to be the boss, to be successful, top of my game, dominant.
And I’d say, well, mainly, knowing I have ADHD has helped me learn to love and accept myself more just the way I am. I’m not really trying to win or dominate anything. If anything, I hope the job I have now is like the most responsibility or success I’ll ever have. Because I’m going to want to downshift in the years to come.
I want freedom, not winning.
And some people get that, but some clearly do not.
I like to think Jesus gets it, that maybe he’s finally rubbing off on me here and there.
Jesus wants to liberate, not to dominate. The religion – Christianity – that took on Jesus’ title of Christ, the special one, the Spirit-filled one doesn’t tell that same story sadly. Christianity has usually wanted to win, to dominate. Still does.
But Jesus doesn’t care about that. During his ministry, Jesus tried to keep from being famous. Jesus didn’t want to win, to dominate, to have it all. Jesus loved to be with people and share good news. Then and now, he wants to heal and to free, and to see us all truly flourish.
And I think we could do worse than be the same.
Invitations to Whole Life Flourishing
In your life goals, professional goals, and civic life, resist America’s obsession with bigger, with dominance, and with winning. Pursue collective healing and flourishing instead.
Spiritual Practice of the Week
If you win a lot (high status, high pay, high privilege lots of attention, etc.), look for times and places to start taking a back seat. And if you watch others win a lot, remind yourself that you’re not a loser. Ask Jesus how the year of God’s favor can be expressed in you this year.
I’m so excited to stick with these seven stories and to tell the Jesus story. Blog out this week, and I’ll be back next week with Jesus, revolution, and the myth or redemptive violence. Let’s pray.