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Stories from the Powerless at the Bottom

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bias from the Bottom: Week 1

Stories from the Bottom
Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Most of political and church history has been controlled and written by people who have the access, the power, and the education to write books and get them published. One of the few subversive texts in history, believe it or not, is the Bible! The Bible is most extraordinary because it repeatedly and invariably legitimizes the people on the bottom, and not the people on the top. The rejected son, the barren woman, the sinner, the leper, or the outsider is always the one chosen by God. Please do not take my word on this, but check it out for yourself. It is rather obvious, but for some reason the obvious needs to be 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 which is hidden in plain sight.

Many barren women are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, and we repeatedly see God showing them favor. 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).

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.” We see this especially in Mary, a “humble servant” (Luke 1:48). 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). This is so consistently the pattern that we no longer recognize its subversive character. They became merely sweet rags to riches stories.

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 mentioned 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.

In case after case, the victim becomes the real victor, leading Rene Girard to speak of “the privileged position of the victim” as the absolutely unique and revolutionary perspective of the Bible. 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).

Gateway to Silence:
Humble me.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 93;

and Richard Rohr with Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Franciscan Media: 1987), 49-50.

Image Credit: Little Boy, Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.
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