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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA 19014
22 Pentecost - Proper 25
October 28, 2007
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart - Inclusive
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To grow the
One never knows where a sermon is going to come from – especially if one has a mind
that tends to be a little “strange” to begin with.
I read a short –but outrageous – item in one of the “entertainment” columns in the
Inquirer a few days ago that struck me, as I’m sure was intended by the author, as absurd.
But reading it sent my thoughts back to last week’s lessons – which I enjoyed listening to
from a pew, for a change – a pew in a former mission, St. Paul’s, Sea Cow’s Bay, Tortola, of
which I was Vicar when I was Rector of St George’s Church in Road Town, Tortola.
The item was about Donald Trump, who, it seems, is about to embark on a new venture in
another one of his inane sidelines. He’s going to have a new television show, next year,
it seems, in which people involved in disputes of various kinds (usually involving money,
which, of course, is his area of expertise) will come to him and present their respective
positions. In his wisdom, he will then decide who is right and who is wrong while
dispensing his priceless advice. He will, the article indicated, be like Judge Judy, but
with neither the robes nor the training. Reading the article, I was reminded of last week’s
Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge!
And at the same time I recalled that last week’s lessons also included a story about the
Patriarch Jacob, and at the same time thought of this morning’s bragging Pharisee!
Of the three, surely the connection in my mind with Jacob is the one most in need of
some explanation, so I’ll take a moment to point it fill it out a bit.
Jacob, son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham was one of the three great patriarchs of the
Judaeo-Christian tradition; surely one of the greatest characters in all of Scripture; and a
great con man! He was the man who, first, conned his brother out of the inheritance that
was rightly the brother’s, as the oldest son, and who then conned his Father into giving
Him the paternal blessing that was rightly his older brother’s as well!
Last week’s lesson from Genesis takes place long after those events of Jacob’s youth,
though, and the lesson, itself, is more about growing up; more about maturity!
There’s another way to look at Jacob and his career than as the con man that he clearly
was, though; a way that’s much more contemporary with our own time – our own recent
experience here in the States and even around the world! And it’s this way that connects
him, in my mind, with the Unjust Judge, the Pharisee and, indeed, Donald Trump!
Because while Jacob’s basic “tool” in his youthful chicanery was his mind; and his
technique was, indeed, the con, what he truly was, in a very strong sense, was a bully!
A bully, according to my dictionary, is someone who dominates, intimidates, and
humiliates others by superior strength! An obvious definition; but subtle, too: note it
doesn’t say superior physical strength – which is the way we tend to think about it – but
just “superior strength.”
Most bullies, in fact, don’t intimidate by their muscle-power, and those that do are not
really that important! We all remember bullies in high school, and, indeed, high-school
bullies are one of the phenomena that makes this topic a current one, given the number
of actual and real tragedies in recent years, beginning with Columbine, and even up to
But even in my day – and, I suspect, yours – bullies could make life pretty unpleasant and
even painful at times. On that level, though, the ordinary, run-of the mill bully doesn’t
have much staying power.
Jacob was a different kind of bully! After all, from the descriptions, it certainly seems as if
his brother Esau was bigger than he, stronger than he, more physical than he! Yet Jacob
was able to dominate and humiliate his brother! He was not a bully of brute strength, but
a bully of the mind – the worst kind!
Jacob was smarter than most people. Smarter than his brother, certainly, and smarter
than his father, Isaac! And he used his brain – his mind, his “smarts” – and the sheer
power of his personality to bully other people; to push them around; to “dominate,
intimidate, humiliate” them; to use them; to get what he wanted from them!
In the end, of course, there’s no real difference in the bully who intimidates by his size
and his muscles and the one who does so by use of his intellect or his personality!
Except, perhaps, that people who bully strictly on the basis of their physical size don’t
tend to be very important, and don’t usually last very long – sooner or later, inevitably,
running into a bigger bully, a stronger bully!
But the bully who uses his mind or personality – that’s a different story! That kind of bully
can last a long time! Especially since he’s so often smart enough to operate without his
victims realizing he Is a bully! In fact, if he’s really smart, he may not only get away with his
bullying – possibly for a long, long time – he may actually accomplish great things! In fact,
if he’s good at it, he may even manage to be admired for his bullying!
Henry Ford was such a bully! Thomas Edison was, too, from all reports, and more than one
of our presidents! Many successful business people have bullied their way to the top –
which fact is what connects last week’s bullies with today’s Pharisee, not to mention that
best known corporate bully in this country, today, the one on television virtually every
week, continuing to making money by doing his thing, bullying people, and doing it
proudly: Donald Trump!
Many corporate bully types have even instilled their own bullying ways in their
companies, and made their Companies bullies, as well, companies where the whole
corporate culture is built on bullying! One thinks, for instance, of such diverse
enterprises as Wal-Mart and Exxon!
And throughout the ages, even to this day, the bullying ways of leaders have often
turned whole countries into bullies: intimidating and dominating other countries – at
times, humiliating them by their superior strength, their wealth, their power; at other
times subjugating or even destroying them by the sheer strength of their country’s
economic or military might!
The worlds of psychiatry and psychology have all kinds of understandings and
explanations for the phenomenon of bullying, but I’m not about to go into them, this
morning. I can tell you the immediate, overt source of bullying behavior, though –
whether individual, corporate or national!
Bullying happens when someone – like Jacob – convinces him- or her-self that he or she
is in some way better than others. Superior beings; more intelligent; brighter; more
talented; more accomplished; more ‘moral’! You name it.
Bullying is enabled when one person looks at others, and says to himself, with the
Pharisee, “Thank God that I am not like these other people, these untalented people;
these unmotivated, lazy people; these ignorant, misguided fools; these inferior,
worthless, immoral trash; these people of the wrong faith, these of the wrong color,
these who speak the wrong language, these who dress funny!”
Thank God I’m better than they, who are fit only to serve my needs!
Jesus tells a parable in this morning’s Gospel that could just as well be a description of
our old friend, Jacob – that man who trusted in himself that he was righteous, while he
despised his brother as worthless; that man who lived a life of manipulation and bullying!
Until – once more – he grew up!
Until, actually, having finally been confronted with one who was stronger than he, more
successful than he, wealthier than he – his now matured brother whom he had despised
– and having wrestled with God and wrestled with himself – he had at last grown up, he
had at last matured. And in maturing, had finally come to see that at our best we are really
all the same – and that, at our worst… well…, we are really all the same; that is, that all of
us are just who we are, striving to be who we can be, who we are made to be, who we are
called to be; each with our own strengths and abilities; each with our own weaknesses
and failures; that, as Saint Paul writes to the Romans, “all have sinned, and fall short of
the Glory of the Lord.”
And it’s what he means, too, when he writes to the people of Galatea, “There is neither
Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you
are all one in Christ Jesus.”
I do believe that most of the trouble that exists in the world, today – and always! – is
traceable to what we know as “bullying;” one person taking advantage of another,
because he believes he is more worthy, more deserving, more entitled than the other;
one sex taking advantage of another; one race taking advantage of another; one nation
taking advantage of another: intimidating, manipulating, attacking… bullying!
And the answer to most of those troubles is the same as it was four thousand years ago
and two thousand years ago: it is, with Jacob, to grow up, to mature, to wrestle with our
God and with ourselves until we discover who we are, and who that Pharisee over there
is, and who that tax collector over there is – people. Just people.
The answer lies in each one of us learning – as the tax collector (who, we can be certain,
had been a bully in his own right) learned – the humility to say, not “God help me to teach
him a lesson,” but, in spite of our strength of body or mind, of wealth or numbers, or
sheer personality, to say “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” To find the humility in our
being, humility in our origins, humility in our destiny – to know that, in the end, we are all
called to exactly the same destiny: all called to be nothing more nor less than children of
the Lord God, sons and daughters of the king, headed, most assuredly, toward death, but
headed, as well, toward a life of glory before Him!
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen