I don’t believe in Magic Jesus.
If I go lie down on the interstate and pray to Jesus for protection, even if we pray a hedge of protection around myself, even if I name it and claim it, no divine intervention will protect me from being hit by traffic. If I pray for a parking space and one happens to open up, I hope it is not because God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit is causing someone else to leave their shopping early so that I can get a closer space. I hope God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are working on children still kept in freezing cold cages, on cancer, on COVID, on racial justice. I don’t believe in Magic Jesus. So, what then?
In the Gospel of Matthew, on the same day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the start of his last week, Jesus tells a parable about a man with two sons he sent to work in the vineyard.
One son says he will do the work but does nothing. The other son says he will not do the work but then he does what is needed. Which one did what the father wanted?
In telling this parable, Jesus mentions John the Baptist — someone who didn’t say it right, didn’t look right, wasn’t following the rules of the religious status quo. John was a prophet of radical dissent opposing the establishment of Rome as strongly as he opposed those who claimed religion but did not work for justice. John disrupted the way things were, shouting about a new world, a world marked by justice.
With Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus openly and decisively declared his alignment with John and against the establishment. He joined John’s call to free forgiveness and radical sharing and then moved within it and beyond it to his own ministry. Jesus took up John’s disruption and added to it by working for healing of the sick, working for justice for the oppressed, welcoming the excluded, offering an alternative kingdom — a kingdom not built on violence and oppression but on peace and justice.
Jesus built on the work of John, and John built on the work of Deborah and Miriam and Daniel and Moses.
I don’t believe in Magic Jesus. I do believe I am part of an ongoing revolution, an ongoing effort to bring about a realm of justice and peace. I believe the work of Jesus did not die with him; it did not end with the ascension. I have a part to play, and so do you.
“There is work to be done — work, not just lip service. But right now, it’s hard to know how to labor in the vineyard.”
There is work to be done — work, not just lip service. But right now, it’s hard to know how to labor in the vineyard. Right now, as more than 200,000 Americans are dead from COVID, a disproportionate number of them people of color; right now as stray bullets in the wall draw criminal charges but bullets that killed a Black woman in her home do not; right now as hypocrisy in the Senate reigns; right now as the president threatens to throw away the ballots of the coming election and refuses to condemn white supremacists; right now when I am not OK and I imagine you are not OK; right now — how? How do we do the work right now?
One way is to look to those who have joined in the work of justice more recently. Workers like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who found her place in the revolution. We look to those who have gone before, and we follow their examples. We find our place in the ongoing work of God, the ongoing work of justice, peace, reconciliation, security, restoration and forgiveness.
Just after his parable about the two sons — the one who says the right things but does nothing and the other who doesn’t say it right but does the work — just after this story, Jesus praises the “tax collectors and prostitutes” — people whom most would assume are not agents of God yet, according to Jesus, have found their place within God’s activity.
We cannot let the despair, the disappointment, the overwhelm, the obstacles keep us from doing the work. If we seek to follow in the ways of Jesus, then we have said yes to the vision of the world laid out by the prophets, by John, by Jesus — a vision of sharing, justice and love and an end to oppression. No Magic Jesus is coming to save us. No Magic Jesus is coming to solve all the problems.
“We’ve got to get out in the vineyard. We must vote. We must help others vote.”
We’ve got to get out in the vineyard. We must vote. We must help others vote. We must write our elected officials and call out their hypocrisy and call them to their best selves. We must continue our personal and corporate anti-racist work. We must continue our efforts for those who have come to our country for safety, for a future, and who are now being abused in our name. We must continue to work to change the way guns and violence are promoted in our country.
It is a lot. It feels like too much some days. And it is the calling we are living into. It is the action of the “yes” we have said to doing the work of justice and peace. This work is ongoing. It is day-after-day work. And it is work we do in community, a community that stretches back to the prophets and forward to this moment.
I don’t believe in Magic Jesus, but I believe there is something of a miracle when we work together, when we dedicate ourselves to justice and love day after day. Let’s get to work.
Laura Mayo is senior minister of Covenant Church in Houston. She is a graduate of Carson-Newman University and Wake Forest Divinity School, with additional studies at Regent’s Park College of Oxford University. She is active in various interfaith projects and organizations in Houston.