By Alston Johnson
A good pastor friend of mine made an observation about Disney World. He was walking through Epcot Center with his family.
He was amazed, walking through Epcot and the Pavilions of the World, that in some mysterious and magical way, he actually felt that he was visiting China, France, Morocco, Japan, and England . . . all right there in the 90% humidity of central Florida.
“In Epcot Theme Park, creativity is encouraged, imagination is celebrated, and countries are united. Be amazed, inspired, enlightened, and entertained!” — thus sayeth Disney World
However, my friend noticed something as he toured the Pavilions of the World — nowhere, nowhere, could you see a religious symbol. Not one — unless is was on the body, or the T-shirt, of a visitor.
No Star of David, No Crescent Moon, No Cross, No Buddha . . . perhaps that helps the Magic Kingdom remain “magical.” No complicating and compromising questions about religion, and thereby politics, are given a place to live in the magic kingdom.
Perhaps that’s part of being on vacation: we leave behind, for a moment, some of those inconvenient distinctions and commitments. It’s an afternoon stroll through a world without God’s fingerprints all over it.
I was in Epcot a few years ago – and I was sold. I loved it. All of it. And like my friend, I walked through the Magic Kingdom with a tiny splinter in my mind, or something like a stone in my shoe and my imagination; because I knew that this beautiful pageant was really only a half-truth; a day-dream, an entertainment.
Disney World – I am a fan.
The Epcot boycott of religious symbols is simply an exaggeration or a telescoping of something that whispers throughout our ever-expanding, secular society: wouldn’t life be far lovelier, perhaps easier, if these pesky messages from God could be ignored, or erased?
Honestly, I have often thought to myself, “You know Lord – If we had not struck up this particular friendship — I do believe that my life might be a bit easier.”
And if we cannot erase God from the world completely, then perhaps we erase, or edit, God’s messengers — especially Jesus. C.S. Lewis caught on to this desire that we have for an edited version, of the message and the messenger.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.
That is the one thing we must not say.
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
In the reading from Luke’s Gospel – Jesus is closing the door, Himself, on such editorial privilege; the writer of Luke is recording it for the sake of evidence.
Luke gives a glimpse of Jesus, while he is surrounded by people who knew him best, in his home, that is when he reads these words from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And then, then . . . a really interesting thing happens. Jesus says something that only he can say. Jesus says something – that if it were to come out of the mouth of anyone else – it would be considered insanity, hubris, or just plain stupidity . . . Jesus says these words,
“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Who else in all of history is able to read these words from Isaiah, and say, that they have been fulfilled. How can we possibly “edit” that moment?
Jesus is closing the prophetic circle. Jesus is closing the fire escapes and saying that God is not only at work in the world — God is present, accounted for, and can be seen and known.
Jesus in this synagogue, in this town of Nazareth, reading the hopes and dreams of Isaiah for Israel, is a meeting of the man with history and destiny; Jesus not only interprets the Scriptures . . . He is the content of those very Scriptures.
In the life that Jesus will live from this moment forward . . . there is a trajectory of light that travels from within Him to shine out upon others and the world.
It is as clear as a bell in the Gospels that those who are baptized into Jesus’ name are to give their lives to this trajectory as well.
Bringing light to the darkness.
Extending love and forgiveness where there is hurt and anger.
Bring hope to the poor.
Feeding the hungry.
Loving those who are the most difficult to love; as well as speaking truth and love to power, or those who would have power handed to them. These are the marks of Isaiah. These are the marks of someone who follows Jesus.
In perhaps every way imaginable, Jesus is the medicine, the light, the hope for those troubling things, those difficult things, in life from which we really never get to take a vacation, or necessarily want to take a vacation. When he is loved, Christ is the light and joy of life. And so to follow him is to walk in joy so that this prophetic and unedited circle might be unbroken.
The Very Rev. Alston Johnson is dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport, La.