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Center for Action and Contemplation

Stories from the Bottom: The Rejected, Outsider, and the Sinner  

Monday, July 17, 2023

Father Richard shows how one of the Bible’s persistent themes is how God chooses the rejected, the outsider, and the unlikely for grace and divine purpose:  

One of the few subversive texts in history is the Bible! The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably legitimizes the people on the bottom, not the people on the top. Rejected sons, barren women, sinners, lepers, or outsiders are always the ones chosen by God. It’s rather obvious when pointed out to us. In every case, we are presented with some form of powerlessness—and from that situation God creates a new kind of power. This is the constant pattern found hidden in plain sight. [1] 

We repeatedly see God showing barren women favor in the Hebrew Scriptures. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren and past child-bearing years when God blessed her with baby Isaac (Genesis 17:15–19). Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was barren until God “opened her womb” and she bore Joseph (Genesis 30:22–24). Barren Hannah poured out her soul before the Lord, and God gave her Samuel (1 Samuel 1). [2] 

Even before Moses, God chose a “nobody,” Abraham, and made him a somebody. God chose Jacob over Esau, even though Esau was the elder, more earnest son and Jacob was a shifty, deceitful character. Election has nothing to do with worthiness but only divine usability, and in the Bible, usability normally comes from having walked through one’s own wrongness or “littleness.” God chose Israel’s first king Saul out of the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest and weakest tribe. The pattern always seems to be that “the last will be first, and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16). We see this especially in Mary, a “humble servant” (Luke 1:48). This is so consistently the pattern that we no longer recognize its subversive character. 

One of the more dramatic biblical stories in this regard is the story of David. God chose him, the youngest and least experienced son of Jesse, to be king over the nation. His father, who had many sons, did not even mention David as a possibility, but left him out in the fields (1 Samuel 16). David was thus the forgotten son who then became the beloved son of YHWH, the archetypal whole man of Israel, laying the foundation for the son of David, Jesus. [3] 

In case after case, the victim becomes the real victor, leading philosopher René Girard (1923–2015) to speak of the “privileged position of the most victimized victim” as the absolutely unique and revolutionary perspective of the Gospels. [4] Without it, we are hardly prepared to understand the “folly of the cross” of Jesus. Without this bias from the bottom, religion ends up defending propriety instead of human pain, the status quo instead of the suffering masses, triumphalism instead of truth, clerical privilege instead of charity and compassion. And this from the Christianity that was once “turning the whole world upside down” (Acts 17:6). 

References: 

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014), 93. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1987), 53, 52. 

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1988), 112. 

[4] See René Girard, “Satan,” in The Girard Reader, ed. James G. Williams (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1996), 209. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Everything at Once, digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Wings, digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Perhaps those on the “bottom” of our societies, like the bottom shape in the image, have colors those “on top” have never dreamed of, like corals, reds and yellows.  

Story from Our Community:  

I have been reading CAC’s Daily Meditations for a few years now. I’ll never forget the first time I read a reflection on “dying to your own will” in order to live through God’s will. At first, I was perplexed by this idea. I thought about it constantly. The more I began to meditate on what it meant, the more I began to understand exactly what “dying to my own will” meant and what it would look like. What I found would shift the deeply instilled judgment and bias that I had grown up with in the Protestant church. I came to understand that for me, it meant avoiding focusing on what everybody else was doing spiritually— and whether I thought it was right or wrong. As I let go of judgement, I began to have a more honest and healthy relationship with God. I feel like I am a better witness to the gospel that I was before, because I no longer feel the need to police anyone else’s spiritual life. I am so thankful for this understanding. It has changed my spiritual walk forever. —Stacey H.  

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