Beckett: Can Anything Good Come Out Of [fill in the blank]?

Philip goes to Nathanael and tells him the exciting news that he has found the Messiah! But Nathanael responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As Rev. Dr. Leopoldo Sánchez strongly implies in his article, “Can Anything Good Come Out of ____? Come and See!”, we ask the same question about our strange and marginal neighbours. “Can anything good come out of Mexico/Iraq/Chinatown/the barrio just a couple blocks down?” Even though the expected answer to Nathanael’s question was “no,” the real answer to his question and our question is, “yes”—precisely because the Messiah came out of the marginal town of Galilee and not the cultic centre of Jerusalem.

Sánchez uses the stories of the Scriptures to make his point; he also shares his own experience as an immigrant. He shares his experience that when he moved to the States as an immigrant from Panama, he was reminded that he had an accent and “in the worst cases, discriminatory jokes and remarks were made against me or people who talked and looked like me” (p. 115). This is somewhat similar to my wife, Emilia’s, experience as a Finnish immigrant.

“Christ and Mary Magdalene” by Albert Edelfelt, 1890; a famous Finnish painting.

She doesn’t like being reminded that she has an accent. Although she can put up with me reminding her since she knows how much I genuinely love that part of her, she can’t stand it when others remind her that she has an accent because it also reminds her that she’s not like us and “doesn’t belong.” She’s even experienced discriminatory remarks not for being Finnish—since hardly anyone knows anything about Finns in this country—but rather for being an immigrant. Some have stated that she’s taking jobs away from Americans (even though she’s a legal immigrant) and others simply don’t want her here just because she’s from another country. You can imagine how angry this makes me as her husband.

They wonder, “Can anything good come out of Finland?” The answer is, of course, yes! Because I married her! But more importantly, because the Lord has brought her into His church.

So, Emilia easily relates to Jesus the Galilean—our Saviour who had a Galilean accent. As Sánchez notes, Peter’s accent gave him away as one of Jesus’ followers, who was also from Galilee (Matthew 26:73). Thus, “When read through marginal eyes [like my wife’s], the story of Jesus the Galilean and his Galilean disciples bears witness to the outworking of God’s power and wisdom through the cross, and this in turns [sic.] allows us to see how God can work his salvation even in and out of the most unlikely places, among marginal characters with strange accents, and even use them to extend his kingdom” (p. 118). Something amazing came out of Galilee—our Lord and Saviour.

And as Sánchez continues, he shows that this Saviour goes to the margins where nothing good supposedly comes from. “Galileans lived too close to Greek-speaking people and were not considered to be as pure as the Jerusalem Jews. Samaritans were worst off, the enemies of God’s people, totally unfit to receive God’s blessings. So goes the story. But shockingly, Jesus walks along the despised border between Samaria and Galilee (Lk 17:11)” (p. 118).

Can anything good come out of Samaria? Ask a first-century Palestinian Jew that question, and the answer is no. Ask a 21st-century Christian that question, and we’ll probably say yes, assuming we’re familiar with the New Testament. After all, we give honour to the fictional good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable who helped the man near death whereas the so-called honourable Levite and priest did not. But replace Samaria with a place like Mexico or Iraq or a local barrio, and the answer suddenly changes to a quick and resounding “no.”

But let’s ask ourselves the favoured evangelical question, “What would Jesus do?” Rather, a better question would be, “What did Jesus do?” As Sánchez makes clear, He not only walked the border of marginality but He even crossed those borders. This is best seen, I think, in the Samaritan woman at the well.

Jesus enters a town of Samaria called Sychar and speaks with a Samaritan woman to give Him a drink. She responds, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Not only does Jesus dare to speak to a Samaritan, but she’s also a woman—she was doubly marginalised. But Jesus doesn’t answer her question. Instead, He makes it known that He is the Messiah, she returns to her town and bears witness about Him, and many other Samaritans come from their town and confess their faith in Jesus their Saviour (John 4:1-42).

Thus, “When read through marginal eyes, the story of Jesus who walks along the border bears witness to the power of the gospel to save people not on the basis of their condition in life, their religious purity, cleanliness, or holiness, but on the basis of faith in Christ” (p. 119). Who are we, then, to bar entry into our church doors or homes from those who come from marginality when our Lord—born in the margins of Galilee—entered many margins to make Himself known?

So, as Sánchez puts it, “Who are some of the Galileans of our time” (p. 120)? Who are the people in our midst with strange accents, customs, looks, and cultures? Even more, how do we speak to such peoples in our midst? The examples of the biblical stories Sánchez uses not only help us, but his discussion on rituals and the “two kinds of signs” is also helpful. According to Apology XIII, there are the signs of God’s grace in the sacraments that are for all people, but most interesting is that even though the Apology advises us not to confuse manmade signs with divine signs, nevertheless they “may have a pedagogical purpose in service to the gospel” (p. 112).

The cross or crucifix is one such sign he spends significant time on—that Hispanics who come from a history of violence and rejection can find their stories in Jesus’ story of the cross. Thus, we can use the crucifix to speak to such peoples who constantly experience rejection, violence, and marginality about the story of Christ who also suffered rejection, violence, and marginality.

Yet I wonder if we can’t talk more about our “rites” or rituals “in terms of experiences and practices that embody and give meaning to our lives.” Sánchez specifically talks about hospitality as “the practice or ritual that speaks to those aspirations of the human family” (p. 114). Incorporating a ritual of hospitality toward the stranger is all too important a practice for Christians to undertake in their lives, especially in the context of Jesus’ birth narrative who received no hospitality. But what other rites or rituals can we practice in order to speak to marginalised peoples? I cannot help but think of the rituals in our worship.

Just walking through Divine Service 3, what rituals can we use to speak to the marginalised among us? After the Invocation, it begins with Confession and Absolution. Who is welcomed here? Surely not just the middle-class to upper middle-class people but also those “below” us in the socioeconomic sense. Are our church doors open to these people? Do we ourselves speak words of forgiveness to these people in our community?

Next, in the Service of the Word, we sing the Gloria in Excelsis. In this beautiful hymn, we give praise to the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. This world includes our marginalised neighbours among us. Do we allow them to stand beside us in the sanctuary as we sing this song of praise in unity? Do these words move us to go out into the world—even the margins—that Christ had mercy upon in order to tell our marginalised neighbours about the story of the Lamb of God?

In the Offertory, we sing Psalm 51, asking God to create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit within us. But do we really mean it? Do we want God to create in us a new heart toward our marginalised neighbour? Does the joy of salvation we ask for in this hymn move us to tell the story of Christ’s salvation to our marginalised neighbour? The same stories above and more that we read about?

As we move into the Service of the Sacrament, every person is welcomed to the Table. Do we kneel at the table beside our Hispanic and Middle Eastern or Finnish neighbour without thinking of them as a weird foreigner but as our brother/sister in Christ? Does this ritual move us to invite our marginalised neighbour to our own tables for fellowship?

As we sing the Agnus Dei, we ask Christ the Lamb of God to have mercy upon us. Do these words move us to have mercy upon others for the sake of Christ, the Lamb of God who’s taken away the sin of the world? Do we have mercy upon the undocumented immigrant and help them with their legal paperwork so they can finally work and live in our country legally? Do we have mercy on legal immigrants like my wife by welcoming them with wide arms? (Indeed, this is hospitality.)

At the close of the service, we sing the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the faces of all people, a light to lighten the Gentiles and glory of Thy people Israel.” But do we really depart in peace according to the Word we just heard and sung? Do we take heed of Christ’s Word, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), to be that light to our Gentile neighbour? That is, these Gentile neighbours who are immigrants or otherwise marginalised? Do we see ourselves as the Gentiles whom Christ has enlightened with His salvation? Thus, do we see not only Christ but also ourselves in our Gentile neighbour? Do we welcome them with peace?

All this gets more to the point of what Sánchez shared in his sermon in the same article, “What is the church but a little Galilean flock that is ridiculed and walks to a different drumbeat? To the world, you sound like a people with strange accents and customs. And yet God has revealed his salvation, his power and wisdom, for the sake of the world, through people who in the eyes of the world are nothing, insignificant, weak, and foolish. Through you” (p. 121).

As the church, we ought to have eyes for the marginalised and a heart for the marginalised, for we ourselves are a marginalised group of people. The Divine Service I just walked through is a different tune than the rest of the world. To the world, it’s really weird. The church has different customs and speaks a completely different language and it is filled with people of many different accents. Yet Christ walked into our margins and has enlightened us with the power and wisdom of His salvation.

Thus, as people on the outside, the world asks: Can anything good come out of the church? And the answer is “yes” because despite the sinners who do inhabit the church, the one at the centre of it all is Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, welcoming to His Table all people not based on man’s pedigree but solely on the basis of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus.

Bibliography

Sánchez, Leopoldo. “Can Anything Good Come Out of _____? Come and See!” Concordia Journal 41, no 2 (Spring 2015): 111-123.

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