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I wonder when it was that the last court jester hung up his fool’s hat and called it a day.
I wonder that because I see those waning days for myself.
Now, you might not see the connection as readily as the many-years-twisted synapses in my own head do, so allow me to spell it out. You see, the court jester of old, the clergy, and even Jesus himself, we all are salesmen of a sort with a singular product for our wares: the Truth.
The court jester famously was the only one who could get away with speaking the truth to the kings because it was packaged in comedy and entertainment (we see their lineage continued today in the likes of stand-up comedians and music’s own self-proclaimed court jester, Jimmy Buffett). And of course, the reason they got away with telling the truth was it made the king laugh, which is just the other side of the coin of how most comedy works: by simply stating in stark contrast the Truth against what polite social perceptions are.
But at some point, we got one too many “Off with their heads!” and now all we’ve got left are late-night laughs and Jimmy singing in his one song, “I’m just an old truth-teller, I’m your candid friend, I’m not some daydream seller, I do not pretend.”
Folk songs and jokes can still tell us a truth or two without closing an ear or mind.
But then you have the faithful few who have continued to try to carry out that Pentecost Day mandate of the Church to carry Jesus’ Word and words of Truth to the world. Not so easy a task in today’s society.
Ironically, as I meet with clergy of all differing denominations, there is bit of that vague feeling of obsolescence that is reflected in a different Jimmy Buffett ballad, “A Pirate Looks at Forty” which, in reference to a whole different kind of calling, reflects on arriving too late in history,“My occupational hazard being my occupation’s just not around.”
Because, you see, whereas there are some topics the Bible and Jesus in it simply do not address directly enough to make a definitive statement about, or topics we have moved beyond in our modern society (try prohibiting pork in the barbecue capital of the world), there are some topics that are so crystal-clear that to tell it makes one irrelevant in a world with too many opinions, alternative facts and options to the Truth.
I wrote an article for my church’s internal newsletter last week that pointed out one such point in relation to the big news cycle for the past several weeks. It had to do with families and children, especially in contrast to the big family movie event we sponsored last Saturday. I bookended the article with two scripture readings that had been on my mind ever since the whole controversy about immigrant families and especially children separated had been in the news.
That, of course, was ramped up by the reality of what that sounded like and looked like, the political rhetoric that followed, and in the end, the seeming impotence of anyone in being able to fix what has been torn apart. The blame game is all over the place, but the Truth still remains that children were, and I suspect still are, needlessly suffering, and probably suffering long-term damage if not physically, then psychologically, and most likely deep down in their souls!
I gave the quote of Luke 18:15-17 to start: “People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
And I ended that article with one of the few times that Jesus threatens retribution, Matthew 18:1-7: “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’
“‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling-blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!’”
I made the point that the protection of all children was not a political statement. That this is a social justice issue that has been reaffirmed by church leaders across almost all denominations. And I dare say, by trying to address it, it passes the simple question of What Would Jesus Do?
I had a hearty reply from my oldest member at 97, who noted not only the Bible’s protections and hospitality toward children but the foreigners, immigrants if you will, as well, and a commendation toward Truth. But perhaps he is of a different age than what we live in today. Maybe he remembers a time when Truth was a commodity worth something.
Or maybe he is even ahead of his time, envisioning a day when Truth will be once again all in all. But for now, there are those like myself in many different denominations today — the court jester and Jesus himself still asking: Won’t you buy our wares?
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 26 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.