“Mean people are hurting.” My very favorite Marriage and Family Therapist has a bumper sticker hanging in his office with this quote on it. It must be a Zen bumper sticker because it has that little Zen ink brush circle on it, and that makes sense because it’s a pretty zen quote. As far as I can tell Gautama Buddha never said anything exactly like “Mean people are hurting”, though it’s nice to imagine him stooping down to some impoverished beggar monk who’s bowl had just been passed over by some scowling face for the twentieth time and whispering something as serenely helpful as, “mean people are hurting,” but it probably didn’t happen probably just because Gautama Buddha wasn’t in the business of making bumper stickers. My friend, however, is in the business of helping to heal hurting people, and in his context this quote makes sense because sometimes hurting people turn mean. It’s easier that way, actually. It’s harder to say, “I’m really hurting right now,” or “I am deeply sad today,” or “I’m worried that no one really cares about me,” and easier to make a snide comment or a passive aggressive push for attention or a personal attack. It’s easier to be mean. And when we are faced with the meanness of this world, it is easier to get defensive than to try to help. It is easier to push back, fight, defend and belittle. And so to have a little reminder hanging around, “Mean people are hurting,” is to have a reminder about the choice we have to make when confronted with meanness. Shall I offer this person my own well-refined supply of defenses? Or shall I offer this person my compassionate care? Perhaps you could try keeping this handy phrase with you for the next time someone cuts you off on the Banfield Expressway, or the next time someone gives you judgemental side eye at the dog park. “Mean people are hurting,” you’ll say, and watch as the compassion just wells up inside of you.
Jesus is continually faced with the meanness of this world. Jesus has enemies who like to make his theological points personal. “You have a demon!” they say when they disagree. Or, “your father was a carpenter -and I’ve heard he wasn’t even your real father!” Ok, I made that last one up. Jesus gives out truth and healing and people often respond with meanness. More than just meanness, evil. Evil is what you get when we refuse to take ownership of our meanness as a flaw, when we try to justify it and give it it’s own special priority. For Jesus today that comes as a death threat from King Herod. Death threats are a last resort of meanness. Meanness par excellence. To make a death threat is to say, “My woundedness is so threatened by your presence that I wish to annihilate you completely so that I will not suffer further risk of being unmasked for the broken human being I actually am.” Death threats were par for the course for Martin Luther King and other principals of the Civil Rights Movement and continue to be for leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. People were and are so afraid of their message that they call their houses at night to tell them that they will not only kill them but their families as well. And of course they would hardly be threatening at all if they weren’t followed through with actual death. This is happening to mayors in Mexico right now who try to do anything proactive about drug cartel violence. It happened to Gisela Mota, who at 33 had been elected as the first female mayor of Temixo. She had been vocal about her plans for ending cartel related government corruption. Two hours after she had been sworn in as mayor armed men came to her house where her whole family had gathered in celebration, especially over a newborn baby of the family. When the men ambushed the house, she rushed forward to say, “I am Gisela,” which is to say, “I am the one you’re looking for.” They beat her and shot her in front of her family, dead.
Jesus is continually faced with the meanness of this world. Jesus is continually faced with the threat of death, with death itself. What does Jesus do in the face of such meanness and death? Today he sends a message to Herod, “that fox”, saying yes, I am healing and yes I am forgiving and yes I’ve come to bring freedom to the poor so what are you going to do? Jesus faces towards the direction of his death. Like Gisela Mota coming out from behind her family to meet the men who’d come to kill her, Jesus turns towards the place which will ultimately bring his end: Jerusalem. He does not defend himself against it’s enmity, instead he calls to it with one of the most maternal images in all of scripture: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” This is one of the key verses we turn to when we’re looking for Christian feminine or maternal images of divinity, because in it Jesus speaks of taking the inhabitants of the very city which will kill him and culling them to his breast as a mother hen would cull her brood. Medieval poets had a field day with this image of Jesus as a cosmic mother, from whose wounds the new world was born. But it is most important to remember that Jesus is not making this maternal gesture to his beloved children or even to his friends, but to his most vocal enemies.
Mean people are hurting, and we have a choice to make when confronted with the meanness of the world. Does this person need my defenses? Or does this person need my care? And when does care, especially the care of a mother, not only protect and nurture but challenge and inspire? In Jesus we see that our God is mothering even the very worst of us. To follow Jesus is to face the meanness of this world and know that we have the freedom to choose how we will respond. We have the freedom to follow a God who turns towards a hurting, defensive world, and becomes for them a mother brave enough to stand for truth and justice. Amen.