We Won’t Play Their Games

Posted on March 11, 2012


3rd Week in the Season of Jerusalem

We Won’t Play Their Games


When our kids were growing up we organized birthday parties for them. There always had to be games.  But there was always one game I hated. That was the game of musical chairs. The children walk in a circle around the chairs until the music stops and then sit down. Each time, you take away one chair and one child is out of the game. Finally, there is only one chair left. Every time that game was played some kid ended up crying. What a dumb game!

I told someone I hated the game and they told me that “It prepared them for life.” I don’t think so. It think it prepares them to accept injustice. That is something we should never accept.

The scripture today tells the story of a man who hired workers at 9, at 12 and at 4. At the end of the day, he paid them all the same wage. When the 9 o’clock workers complained, he told them it was his field and he could pay them what he wanted.

The parable Jesus told was meant to teach those that had occupied the best land, or had the positions of wealth and power, that all the earth belonged to God, not to them, and God doesn’t play musical chairs.

The workers who came to this country with, or without papers, are treated like the workers who came at 5. Those who came at 9 want to deny them the same rights they have, the same opportunities. When times get hard, they want to run them from the country.

No matter that this land, God’s land was stolen from the indigenous. No matter that more of this land was taken by force from Mexico. No matter that policies of the rich of this nation destroyed the economies of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, driving people here to find work. No matter that people were welcomed here to work at cheap wages – without rights.

And no matter that this nation, which is the biggest market for illegal drugs has created the cartels and a wave of violence and death that is as great as in any major war.

No matter about these things. They say, ”We were here first and those who came later are not equal to us.” Of course, that is hypocrisy. It is this kind of hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus set himself against, a stand that cost him his life.

Hypocrisy, however, is contagious. If you live in a hypocritical nation it is easy to fall into hypocrisy yourself. Look at how this thing works.

Haiti was a slave nation. The slaves had a revolution and won their independence. They are still being punished for this –and for being black – by the Europeans and by the United States and they are kept in poverty. Yet Haiti was the first nation to win its independence- and it gave invaluable support to other countries of Latin America to win their independence. You would think that the people of the Caribbean and of Latin America would honor and support Haitians. Not true.

Haitians are treated with disrespect by Dominicans, with whom they share an island, if they try to go to the Dominican Republic to find work. The Dominicans say, ”We were here first. We got here at 9.”

Yet when the Dominicans go to Puerto Rico to find work, they are treated by the Puerto Ricans the same way they treated the Haitians.

What happens to the Puerto Ricans when they come to the United States to work – because of what the U.S. did to the economy of their island? They are treated like they treated the Dominicans, like the Dominicans treated the Haitians. Why, because the white people were here first. “They got here at 9.”

The same thing happened to Hondurans and Guatemalans who come up to Mexico. They are kidnapped, raped and murdered and what little they have is often stolen – by Mexicans.

Given that this is the way life is, like a game of musical chairs, you would expect Puerto Ricans to disrespect the undocumented, and side against them with the whites. And you would expect African Americans to side against the undocumented.

And, in truth, these things did happen. In fact, when Emma Lozano began organizing Sin Fronteras, I remember the Mexicans who were citizens calling the undocumented wetbacks and siding with some of the most racist whites you can imagine.

But something happened in this country. This week, in Selma Alabama, African Americans and Latinos marched side by side in a commemoration of one of the most significant battles in the civil rights movement. And the African Americans were standing with the undocumented against the racist law in Alabama.

Moreover, the polls show that nearly 95% of Latinos support legalization of the undocumented and will not vote for a Presidential candidate who does not support legalization. The polls show that Latino citizens feel that the attack on the undocumented is an attack on them.

That means that Puerto Ricans are siding with Dominicans and Dominicans are siding with Haitians – and all of them are siding with Mexicans, who are siding with Guatemalans and Hondurans.

What happened?

You happened!

You and families like you across the nation stood up with your children and demanded to be treated like human beings. You testified. You demonstrated. You marched. You didn’t have guns. You didn’t have votes. You had faith – and love for your children. And everybody could see it – like the witness of Jesus Christ.

You didn’t win over the majority of whites – although you   won over some. In fact, when you marched, powerful movement developed to suppress you and drive you from the country. That movement has taken over one of the two major political parties in this country, the Republican party.

But when that racist movement came after you, the Latinos and the African Americans saw in their faces the same racism and greed and hatred that had been leveled against them – which was still directed at them. You exposed the hypocrisy. And when they looked at you they saw the faith and love of families they still had in their own hearts. They stopped playing musical chairs.

We will win this battle because time is on our side. Every day we are more and they are less. I am not saying that everything is perfect – and I am not saying that our families are perfect. Hypocrisy is still contagious. Listen to Jesus when he calls on his people to learn to forgive each other. He says “Don’t act like your oppressors, don’t treat each other the way they treat you!” And Jesus came to his people to say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.”

Every year in this church we go through a process that is led by what we read in scripture. In the first season, the season of preparation, we open ourselves to prophecy and the promise of God, just as Mary did, as the shepherds did, with the birth of Jesus. Then in the second season, we open ourselves to see the power and healing of the Kingdom, as the people did when they saw the miracles of Jesus. Then in the third season, we follow Jesus as he marches on the hypocrisy In Jerusalem, as he marches to the cross.

We have had our signs: remember the Posada? And we have had our miracles: remember Sergio was blind but now he sees! And we have been able to defend our families against deportation and separation. We are creating here a community of faith and protection.

Still in this third season Jesus is marching against hypocrisy –and teaching the people to reject hypocrisy in their own lives. Hypocrisy is contagious –and yet our strength comes when we reject it. When we let God make us new.

Hypocrisy comes when you say one thing and do another. It seizes control of you when you say you are part of ur struggle but your heart is not in it. When you make commitments and lie about what you have not done. When you “Just do the minimum”, so that you can enjoy the protection of the church – but your heart is not in it.

Why did Jesus have to die? Why did Elvira have to be deported? We have won so many other cases, why couldn’t we win hers, when so many people were watching?

When Jesus was crucified, the people knew the Romans had killed an innocent man. The people knew that their own leaders, the priests and the Pharisees, had turned Jesus over to be killed because he was exposing their hypocrisy, their greed and the evil things they were doing.

When they saw the hatred directed at Jesus, they recognized the hatred that was directed at them by their hypocritical leaders and by their Roman conquerors. Then when God raised Jesus from the dead, it began a powerful movement that has lasted two thousand years. The Empires couldn’t kill it. Even the church couldn’t kill it – because it was in the hearts of the people.

After Elvira was deported she began to organize in Mexico. She told me, “Pastor, I am still in sanctuary. All of Mexico is my sanctuary.” She is now part of a powerful movement on behalf of the migrants coming up from Guatemala and Honduras that is changing the law in Mexico. And she still has her faith! And she is still here in the hearts of the people! It was a resurrection!”

I don’t know what this season will bring as we walk with Jesus to the cross. I am going to North Carolina tomorrow. We will see what happens there. While the republicans are trying to drive people out of the country, the democrats are still lying to us. They are still trying to deport people that they said they would not deport. We are going to have to struggle with them. We may have a struggle soon in Chicago.

We are not democrats and we are definitely not republicans – but we have ground to stand on. We are standing on Kingdom Ground, on Holy Ground.

Remember the season you are in. Pay attention to the teachings of Jesus in this time. Hypocrisy is contagious. Judging others is contagious. Playing musical chairs with others is contagious. Give yourself the penicillin of prayer, every day until Easter.

Remember that after Easter, in Resurrection time, we are going to begin to organize our many small faith communities, just like they did after the Resurrection of Jesus, just like did in Brazil. And we are going to follow our process of faith. We are going to follow Jesus. We are going to walk on Holy Ground, keep our families together, raise up an army of young people who will fight for their people and claim this land for the Lord!

Amen? Amen? Amen!


Matthew 20: 17-19   Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them,  “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death  and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Matthew 20: 1-8   The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.  “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’  So they went.  “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.  About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’  “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’


Matthew 20: 9-16  The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius.  So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’  “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’  “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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