Friday, November 18, 2011

I am the 1% (but not in the way you think)

Either because of oppression from the law, disunity from within, or the advent of the winter's cold, the Occupy Wall Street movement has begun to peter out.  Expressing discontentment with an elitist monopoly on power and wealth, the Occupy Wall Street movement has brought together a surprisingly diverse group and has received ample media coverage.   The battle cry has been "We are the 99%."  The implication being that only 1% holds the keys to the kingdom: the keys of wealth, power, and privilege.  

The coherence of this movement's goals aside, it proclaims a compelling narrative:  a few receive special attention while so many are at risk and left out.  Almost anyone can relate to and become emotionally involved in this story.  It's the 1 vs. the 99.

The elitism that Occupy protests seems to go against every foundational pillar of our popular understanding of democracy: where's the equality in this kind of math?  A few are privileged with so many are seemingly left out, and neither group seems to get what it truly deserves.    (See To Change the World by James D. Hunter, p. 101ff)

Jesus too offered a narrative with the same mathematical tension, but Jesus' story turns the Occupy narrative on it's head.  Though I would not want to force an untenable allegory between the Occupy movement and this parable, there are striking points of connection and contrast.  This parable comes to us this morning as a part of the daily readings from the Book of Common Prayer's daily lectionary:  

Jesus offers the crowds a parable: "What do you think? If a man has a 100 sheep, and 1 of them has gone astray, does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the 1 that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that 1 of these little ones should perish."  (Matt 18:12-14) 

In Jesus' story, the focus is not on the 99, but the 1.  And in Jesus' story the 1% does not have the privilege of food, shelter, and comfort, but rather the 1% has none of these things.  In fact, the 1% is a lost sheep, wandering aimlessly in a hostile world.  In a sheep's economy, being away from the flock and away from the shepherd has a very low standard of living, indeed.

In Jesus' story, the privilege of the 1% is only that he or she has been sought out by the Shepherd.  To be the privileged in God's Kingdom is to not get what you deserve, to be an object of grace.  

It is here where Jesus inverts the Occupy narrative and the narrative of the American Dream that Occupy movement and its detractors lift up. The narrative of Occupy (and our culture) seems to assume the supremacy of equity.  Everyone deserves a portion of what the 1% has.  But in Jesus' economy and in Christian narrative no one deserves what the 1% has, even the 1% who get it.  In Jesus' parable the division between the 99 and the 1 collapses because in Christ's Kingdom, we are all the 1%.  We are all the lost sheep who have gone astray, who did not get what was deserved, and who have been brought into a different social contract, one we could have never found or chosen.  By being Jesus' 1%, we are brought into an Occupation that will never end, never peter out, and ultimately, that will bring us to the fulfillment desired by our hungry souls, namely, a deep relationship with the Triune God who seeks and saves us wayward little creatures. 

I am humbled to be Jesus' lost sheep, the 1% of the Kingdom of God.  Are you this 1%? 

(Pardon typos, I had to write this in a hurry!)

Season after Pentecost 2011, Proper 28

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