Grace Presbyterian Church
April 17, 2022, Easter Sunday C
An Idle Tale
As we arrive here at the climax of Luke’s account of the earthly life of Jesus, let us just for a moment return to the opposite end of his life, to the night of his birth. The story as told in this same gospel is intensely familiar; Joseph and Mary having to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, the infant Jesus laid in a feed trough among the animals. Then remember to whom, outside of Mary and Joseph, the news of this birth is first announced. “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” You remember, right?
We might not remember that shepherds were, by the standards of society, not the most reliable witnesses. They were necessary, yes – somebody had to watch those sheep. You might even say they were “essential workers,” but you didn’t want to invite one to your home or have one speak up for you in court. “Bottom of the latter” was the typical view of shepherds. For all that, shepherds were the first ones – the only ones, as far as Luke tells us – to receive the announcement of the angels. They went to Bethlehem and saw child and parents, and they returned, presumably to their fields. We don’t know that they ever told anyone else. Given the low status and credibility of shepherds in that culture, any such announcement they might have tried to make would probably have been dismissed as an idle tale.
Of course Jesus grew up, came down to be baptized and then returned to Galilee, something like backwater country compared to Jerusalem. Some of his closest followers were fisherman – again, another group not highly ranked in society. Another follower – one of the twelve – was a tax collector, outright loathed in that society. He didn’t get all bothered when an unknown woman – a “sinner” according to 7:37 – interrupted a gathering to anoint his feet. Much of his time was consumed in being grilled or tested by some religious authority or another. Women composed a significant part of his inner circle, which was another blow to credibility in the eyes of some.
And now, here at the climax, the big surprise ending, the plot twist, the first ones to receive the news of Jesus were some of those women; Luke names Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James among them. The heavenly messengers make their announcement, the women (unlike, say, in Mark’s gospel) eventually “get it,” and they return to the rest of the body of followers to tell this good news.
And the disciples? Well, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” Peter, perhaps still recovering from his denial of Jesus just days before, at least has the decency to go check out the tomb, where he found things just as the women had described. Then he … went home.
The story does continue from here; we get next the account of Jesus catching up with two followers on the road to Emmaus – not two of the big names, but disciples nonetheless. After the two had returned and told their story, Jesus finally shows himself to the fuller contingent of his followers.
Finally, it wasn’t an idle tale anymore.
The good news, the greatest news of all, was dismissed by Jesus’s main disciples at least partly because it didn’t come from the right people. Neither the heavenly messengers nor Jesus made their appearance before Peter or James or John, largely the “big three” of the disciples. A few women and a couple of “lesser” disciples. Not the important folk.
Not the pastors of the big-steeple churches, or the pastors of the megachurches, or the political party leaders or the big-money folk. The risen Jesus, just like the Jesus of his earthly ministry, chose to reveal himself and show his power to folks who that society would have considered fringe-dwellers, unimportant, easily ignored or overlooked.
When we decide that some of the folks around us can be dismissed or overlooked, disregarded or forgotten, we put ourselves at risk of missing out on the greatest news of all. We risk missing out on the doings of the risen Lord. We miss seeing the resurrected Christ because that Christ keeps gravitating to those same marginalized or forgotten people.
It’s on us to listen to those who bear witness to the resurrected Christ. That’s uncomfortable. We might find ourselves among those who frankly make us nervous or who don’t seem like “our kind of people.” They might even seem like “the least of these,” to borrow from Matthew 25. But that is where the risen Jesus shows up over and over again, and that’s where the good news is, just like on that first Easter day. We’d best listen to the margins.
For witness from the margins, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns: #248, Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!, #233, The Day of Resurrection, #239, Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing; #245, Christ the Lord is Risen Today