Jesus Flipped the Script

I had a difficult time in Middle School, well to be frank I have had many difficult times in my life, but recently I was thinking about my relationship with Deke Andrews, my Middle School PE Teacher.

I grew 6 inches between 5th and 6th grade and my eyesight fell to pieces; put another way I was a total mess.  I became clumsy overnight, couldn’t catch, couldn’t run very well, glasses would fall off, balls would hit my side because I lacked peripheral sight.  My social anxiety and awkwardness left me crippled.

Of course, I did not mention any of this to anyone, and I did what any tweener would do — I acted out.  So Coach Andrews bore the brunt of these shenanigans.  Weird noises while doing my presidential fitness sit-ups, hiked britches when running laps, acting spastic in the middle of a routine drill, you get the picture.

The amazing thing about this memory is that Coach Andrews met my immaturity and disrespect with a laugh and a smile – with a shrug of the shoulders.  He never punished me.  Indeed, a miracle, because who has patience like this?  Who meets blatant disrespect with love and kindness?  It was a miracle because we expect people to mirror our actions and reactions.

Social psychologists call this type of behavior: Complementary.  Christopher Hopgood, a social psychologist at Michigan State University, says:  “Complementary behavior is the norm. It means when you act warmly, the person you are with is likely to act warm back.  The same is true with hostility.  It comes natural and follows the script.”

In other words, if we mirror each other’s actions and follow these norms then things will work out, or there will be harmony.  This is the understanding of this normative behavior and the bedrock for how we understand God’s Law.  God’s law lays out a series of quid quo pro commands that guide and direct our behavior according to a script:  Complementary Behavior.

Martin Luther described the Law:  “The law is directed solely to our behavior and consists in making requirements. For God speaks through the law, saying, “Do this, avoid that, this is what I expect of you.”

Enter, the crippled woman in our Gospel reading today from Luke.  She probably had tried to be healed at the pools, or maybe by a healer, her father giving up possessions to heal her or maybe she has been cast out by her family as unclean.  She no doubt has tried anything to be healed of this ailment.   What length wouldn’t we go to be healed?  We know this woman.  We have been there, and we are there.  We have things that need healing: pains, addictions, afflictions, broken hearts, and fears — things that cripple us.

So she sits downtrodden in the corner.  She’s been a faithful member no doubt.   She attends on Sabbath because God said to rest on the 7th day as He did in creation.  And when He gave, through Moses, the law, He told us to rest again on this day to remember the liberation from the Egyptians.  The unclean women and the others were following the Law, which follows a strict complementary model, a script:  If you do something right then, you are rewarded, and if you do something wrong, then you are punished.  It is linear and predictable.   But, the crippled women’s experience is more like my experience with Coach Andrews.

She probably doesn’t even notice Jesus staring at her; she might feel his presence, but he’s a teacher and an authority – someone who knows the law and its rules (script).  She is so used to people walking and looking past her and walking around her that she probably doesn’t even look up until he invites her to him.  Imagine the curiosity amongst the congregation?  Then she is healed.  Set free.  A healing performed on the Sabbath — which was against Jewish law.  She came to the synagogue today to obey the law, and she experiences something entirely contrary to the law.  She experiences what I experienced from my Coach Andrews – Grace – or as psychologists would say Non – Complementary behavior.  Hopwood says, “Non-complementary behavior means doing the unexpected. Someone acts with hostility, and you respond warmly. ”

Luther describes the Gospel this way:   “The gospel, however, does not preach what we are to do or to avoid. It sets up no requirements but reverses the approach of the law, does the very opposite, and says, “This is what God has done for you; he has let his Son be made flesh for you, has let him be put to death for your sake.”  The Law follows the Script.  Grace flips the script.

Jesus flipped the script on the people in the synagogue when he freed the woman from her affliction.  He knew something that we always want to forget – that the law cannot deliver what it demands.  That we will fall short of it, we do not always mirror each other’s actions perfectly – sometimes we are grumpy in the face of kindness.  The law cannot deliver us from our crippled places.

Illustration from Denmark (From Invisbilia:  Flip the Script)

It’s about a town in Denmark that was dealing with young Muslim men who were fleeing to Syria and becoming radicalized.  Like all of Europe and the world, the town struggled with what to do.  Two cops came up with a non-complementary model for dealing with these young men.

Jamal was a young man, born in Somalia, but moved to Denmark when he was young.  He was a good student and a popular kid, but one day in High School he defended his religion, Islam.  As a result, he was met with hostility and condemnation by the local officials; he was labeled a terrorist and he drifted into the shadows and began to listen and learn from radical Islamic groups.

However, one day, his script was flipped by Link Thorleif, one of the cops.  Thorleif had heard about his case.

“Jamal cursed him out and tried to hang up the phone, but then Link did something Jamal didn’t expect: He apologized, for the ordeal, his fellow officers had put Jamal through. Hearing a policeman take responsibility for his life getting derailed really moved Jamal. He agreed to come into Link’s office.”

When Jamal got there, Link introduced him to Erhan Kilic, one of the first official mentors hired by the program. Kilic was a fellow Muslim who had also faced discrimination in Denmark as a child…..”(He) expected to be treated harshly,” Kruglanski says. Instead, they got the opposite…

Starting in 2012, 34 people went from Aarhus to Syria. As far as the police know, six were killed, and ten are still over there. Of the 18 who came back home, all showed up in Aarslev and Link’s office, as did hundreds of other potential radicals in Aarhus — about 330 in total. Reflecting on his path, Jamal concludes, “I’m lucky I got that phone call from Thorleif.”

This beautiful illustration points to the radical non-complementary behavior of the Gospel –  in the face of our failures, and the things that cripple us, we find a God who loves us unconditionally and without reservation.  In the face of the law, we find grace.

We find Jesus who in response to nails being driven through his hands by the world, and you and me, responds with “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

And then the script was flipped forever, when he died and on that Holy Saturday, or the Sabbath when the world was dark, God was at work resurrecting his Son so that we would find the Tomb empty on Easter Morning and know this Good News once and for all.  The script has been flipped – Forever – you are loved and accepted by God and you are free.  Amen.