Robert Williamson, Jr.

Robert Williamson, Jr.

Associate professor of religious studies at Hendrix College (Conway, Arkansas) and founding pastor of Mercy Community Church of Little Rock, a multi-denominational worshiping community welcoming all people, especially those living on the streets. Author of The Forgotten Books of the Bible: Recovering the Five Scrolls for Today (Fortress Press, 2018) and regular blogger at robertwilliamsonjr.com.

Essays

Nathan’s courageous condemnation of King David’s sin is a timely example of court prophecy faithfully performed.

Resurrection is at work among and recognized by those at the periphery long before those in the center.

Jeremiah dared to proclaim a covenant renewed, a world revived, a future resurrected. In the midst of a broken world, Jeremiah declared God’s endless fidelity, which brings forth life in the midst of death and despair.

The call of Jesus to Simon, Andrew, James, and John summons them to leave behind a way of life that supported an exploitative imperial economy and to devote their efforts to serving the kingdom of God instead.

Ahab’s murderous appropriation of Naboth’s vineyard is an example of rulers’ assault upon and destruction of local wealth built up over generations. A contemporary analogy to Ahab’s sin can be found in government treatment of Black communities in highway construction.

The masters of the demon possessed slave girl in Philippi provide a powerful example of the politics of fear in action. Paul’s reticence to heal the girl and face the likely repercussions in this instance contrasts with the courage of the recently deceased Daniel Berrigan.

The disciples’ failure to find their desired results when they returned to fishing following the resurrection of Christ resonates with the experience of many who are drawn back to old patterns of life after a personal encounter with Christ. Their struggle to recognize the risen Jesus challenges us to form communities within which Christ’s presence will be apparent to people in a similar state of uncertainty.

Jesus’ statement ‘You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me’ could easily be regarded as a shrug of the shoulders in the face of the enduring problem of poverty. However, closer examination of the context of the statement in John’s gospel reveals a more compelling picture.

In the incarnation of Jesus, all our systems of social stratification—all our means of exploiting, oppressing, and humiliating one another—are revealed to be lies. Mary expresses a ‘Christmas revolution’ in her Magnificat, a vision for a radically different way of living decisively ushered in by God’s becoming one of us in Christ.

For those living in powerful nations, for those prospering in the global economy, our response to the Reign of Christ Sunday might better be one of repentance than triumph, of humility rather than arrogance. For the reign of Christ stands in opposition to our own reigns, as the world is turned upside down, bringing judgment for those in power and justice for those who have suffered.

Like Jesus’ disciples, too often we are preoccupied with competing for cultural power and influence in a half-sighted manner. Bartimaeus, the healed blind man, presents a model of a more faithful form of discipleship, one that will follow the way of Jesus, wherever that path may lead.

In Numbers 11 the power of leadership that had formerly been concentrated in Moses was spread more widely among the people. This vision of the diffusion of leadership throughout the body politic is one with many challenging lessons for our current situation.

Although the Apostle Paul’s discussion of our struggle against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places may strike many readers as a relic of a primitive cosmological outlook, it is fiercely relevant in our own day, where white supremacy functions as just such a power. Ta-Nehisi Coates has spoken of the illusions and lies undergirding the American Dream and, with the Apostle, calls us to awake to and struggle against the forces and ideologies that bind and enthral us.

Jesus’s example in resisting the crowd’s desire to make him a king following his feeding of the five thousand is a challenge to a Church that so often pursues political power. It presents us with a vision of a Church characterized by ‘downward mobility’.

1 Samuel 8:4-20 illustrates how fear of vague enemies can lead to the development of a military-industrial complex and fuel the domination of rich elites of the mass of a people. Against this stands the Deuteronomic vision of limited monarchy under God.

Only when we truly believe that Black Lives Matter, when we learn to lay down the privilege of whiteness before a God who delights in Blackness, can we understand what it means to be God’s beloved.