In the early ‘70’s a Princeton professor, Dr. Lapsley, said our culture was undergoing a shift in personal judgment,
from internalizing to externalizing the smallest to the largest wrongdoing, from personalizing it as guilt to publicizing it as shame, shame that shifts the focus from self to others. The actions witnessed in two scenes in today’s Scripture.
In the one the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Everyone’s finger was pointed at Moses, “Shame on you for not taking care of us!” They were playing the “Blame Game,” long before Dr. Lapsley described it as the actions of 20th century people, and they weren’t the first.
The story of our human beginnings is played out in a conversation between Adam and Eve while God watches as they take turns pointing the finger of blame: “Shame on you, Eve.” “No, shame on you, Adam.” “No, shame on the snake!” The shift from guilt to shame.
In the Gospel scene the finger-pointing is carried forward by the hypocritical Jewish teachers of the Law.
They are determined to aim questions at Jesus that will prove He is a false teacher, someone who doesn’t know what He is talking about – all within hearing of the people.
Instead, Jesus responds to their questions with His own, to which they say, “We do not know.”
It is so subtle a response that we may miss what they are trying to do – to slither out from under, to dodge having the finger of guilt pointed at them. In the Blame Game they want to be the ones doing all the finger-pointing which they continue to play with Jesus throughout His ministry. Whenever He tries to get them to see themselves as sinners and internalize and personalize guilt, they try to deflect it back on Him, or, as in today’s Gospel, slither out from under the truth with “We do not know.”
I must admit it’s the answer I used on my Mother when she started to scold me for doing something I knew I should not have been doing, I’d try to silence her with, “Don’t put the blame on me!” which I knew, when I said it, was a hopeless defense for there wasn’t anyone else but “me.”
A diversionary tactic we carry into adulthood and use in marriage and family and every setting of everyday life. “It isn’t my fault I’m the way I am! My parents, my environment, my -------- (fill in the blank) are to blame.” Shame on them! Point the finger at them.
Follow the daily news and see all the finger-pointing that is going on:
-ISIS terrorists excusing their slaughter with a finger pointed at the United States and those joining us, targeting us, they say, in retaliation for our firing back at them;
-a white supremacist kills one State trooper and maims another in a finger-pointing vendetta against self-
-a news commentator broadcasts (literally casts abroad) finger-pointing accusations against elected officials,with no self-analysis or reflective introspection.
A daily look through Facebook has me wondering what might happen if one person’s posting that leans to the far left in politics were to come face-to-face with another person’s far right posting. It’s good they don’t, the encounter might be explosive.
Everywhere we look, we see the evidence of the finger-pointing Blame Game played out from today’s Old Testament story of people who made Moses’ life miserable, to Jesus’ verbal wrestling with hypocrites whom He called to accountability in His typical way, by countering with a story about two sons.
One says “yes” to accepting responsibility, but then dismisses his promise, putting it off on others. The second outright refuses, and then changes his mind; he responds; he internalizes his responsibility.
Then Jesus makes His point: “For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”
We must remember, what Jesus was saying to those hypocritical Jewish teachers of the Law, was preserved by the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew so that it could be read to Jesus’ followers through the centuries, to the church, to us. Now it is our time to let Jesus confront us with His wonderfully modern story that has us reliving the tale of the two boys.
For who doesn’t either ignore or reject what God, our Parent, is asking us to do in the work order we read in the teachings and life of Jesus?
Who doesn’t feel the hammer blow of Jesus’ story hitting us in His: “Even the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of heaven before you.”? (Adapted from Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus Concordia University at Austin, Austin , printed in textweek.com for Sept. 28,2014)
What followers of Jesus don’t see we are guilt-ridden, outcasts, rejects, unable to work at making ourselves acceptable in God’s sight?
We are not able to project all the blame on others, for we see when we point the finger of shame at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at us, three fingers, pointing at the guilt that is within us! (Try it – fold fingers to point with one and see the other three are pointing back, and notice the thumb is holding the three in place, securing their position!)
But, lest our guilt paralyze us or consume us, when we who are the followers of Christ point, we are looking at the cross, we are pointing to the cross that becomes for us what the rock at Mount Horeb was in the wilderness, a spring gushing forth and showering us with the guilt-quenching love of God, making us a sight for a finger-pointing, blaming and bashing world to see, and seeing might, just might, say with Edwin Markham:
drawn into the all-embracing love of God! AMEN!