Here Comes This Dreamer; Come Now, Let Us Kill Him

Even before the events in Charlottesville this weekend, my attention was snagged by the Genesis text , and I can’t let it go.

There’s something powerful and dark about it that is all too easy to let slide when we could let our attention be drawn by this week’s story of Jesus walking on the water or Paul’s beautiful quote, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”

Genesis 37 is the story of seventeen-year-old Joseph, innocent, naïve, and oblivious to the toxic jealousy he has awakened in his brothers.

He dons his many-colored coat and eagerly sets out to join them with the flocks, unheeding or perhaps unware of how each bright thread reminds his brothers that they are second best.

Their father loves him the most, and they know it.

It’s not Joseph’s fault that Jacob has apparently failed to keep abreast of all the best parenting techniques on whatever passed for the mommy blogs in ancient Israel.

There is a deep history of complex father-son and brother-brother relationships in this family.

Joseph’s father Jacob feuded with his twin brother Esau, jealously conning him out of his birthright.

Joseph’s grandfather, Isaac, was almost murdered by his own father, Abraham, until the Angel of the Lord stayed his hand and provided the ram caught in the thicket for the sacrifice.

Blood means more than heredity in this family.

They seem to dance around shedding one another’s blood in cycles of conflict invested with deep and tangled emotion.

But today it looks like that in this generation, they will finally cross the line and kill one of their own.

“They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.”

As always when we read Biblical texts, we must resist the temptation to distance ourselves from the more unsavory characters and their actions.

Presumably none of us has ever plotted to literally kill a sibling, but how many of us have metaphorically fled away to get away from either a person or a truth we do not want to admit about ourselves?

Avoidance is a classic coping technique.

Joseph’s brothers could prevent themselves from hurting him when he was not with them out among the flocks, but as he approaches, they lose control.

We can escape lashing out at people we are in conflict with if we avoid them, but when they come into close proximity, our negative emotions are triggered and we can find ourselves picking fights or silently seething with passive-aggressive behavior.

But where it hurts to observe this dynamic the most is within our own contradictory selves.

It’s so easy to be loving and gentle and hopeful when our lives are going well.

When we’ve just had a beautiful prayer time or things are going well at work or we have a great day out with friends or family—the world is holy and we are holy within it.

But with one flat tire or one pounding migraine or one overdue bill, suddenly the hated part of ourselves is here: stinginess, a short temper, superiority, or numbing out with substances and behaviors.

We see it coming from a distance, and we want to kill it. Joseph’s brothers are our kindred after all.

The phrase that leapt out at me this time around in reading this text was, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him.”

And this pierced me to the heart because it reminded me immediately of Jesus.

The story of the crucifixion is so familiar to us that it is rare that we feel its intensity fully.

But consider this sentence in the mouths of the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees.

They were essentially Jesus’ brothers, just like Joseph’s brothers, and their jealousy consumed them.

They would rather kill him than put up with his dreams.

They’re not the only ones who do this. Consider the dreamers who have been put to death throughout history.

From Ignatius of Antioch to John Wycliffe, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., people who had a vision of how the world could be better and different were crushed and destroyed by the world.

Even when their visions were full of hope and possibility, we despised them even as they inspired us.

Why? Because they reminded us always of how we were failing to live up to the sacred potential within us.

By their lives and witness they shamed us with our own complacency and complicity, even as they carried a bright and living torch to guide us into a better world.

“Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him.”

The next question immediately follows: how often are we saying the same thing not just to other people, but to ourselves?

Think about the innocent, optimistic part of yourself that you crush with realism and cynicism.

“That will never work.” “He’ll never understand or change.” “I can’t ever do things right.” “That’s just the way things are. It’s awful, but I can’t do anything about it.”

These are the voices that cover up the dreamer within us.

Underneath the drab pessimism that paints over all our most vivid colors with unrelenting doubt, lie the dreams of of how it all could be changed.

There, in the secret hiding place of the Holy Spirit within us, a quiet voice still speaks, “The people around me have potential. I have potential. This broken world has potential. Grace and truth and faith are real, and I can say yes to them.”

What would it take to end the daily internal repetition of, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him”?

The killing of dreamers of dreams was all too vivid this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. A counterprotestor marching against a white supremacist rally was killed when a neo-Nazi plowed into the crowd with his car.

In the face of bigotry and white supremacism, it is tempting to retreat into our own hatred of the haters.

But somewhere between defeated and often comfortable complacency of despairing that things will ever improve in this country, and the corrupted self-righteous fury that combats violence with more violence, lies the way of the great dreamer, Jesus.

Jesus and the dreamers who followed him, from the early church down to the great social movements of today, walked a path of nonviolent resistance that was a sort of peaceful implacability.

They had a finely honed edge of justice that would not compromise with evil and called it out by name with boldness.

But they had the greatest strength of all—the ability to give their lives in the cause of peace and equality.

Sometimes they died at the hands of the state, sometimes in violence from neighbors and enemies, and sometimes they gave their lives one day at a time in the long, slow work of daily organizing and community building that demands every bit as much courage and fortitude as going out in a blaze of glory.

And all along, they kept hearing the same words from the world: “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him.”

The difference between the great change agents of the world, both famous and unknown, and us was that they heard those words and kept working anyway.

They knew that the violence they endured could kill their bodies but it could never kill the dream, because the dream was bigger than they were.

It was handed down from Jesus to the disciples, and it was handed down in many world religions and cultures.

It is a dream for what we call the Kingdom of God, but regardless of the name we attribute to it, it reflects the common human hunger for peace and justice, for equality, and above all for love.

Joseph’s brothers relented and did not kill him, after Reuben, the oldest, intervened. Who is intervening now?

Who are the dreamers in our society? Are we listening to them?

Our call in this turbulent time is to listen for the grim imperative all around us, and most especially within our own hearts—“Here comes this dreamer; come now, let us kill him”—and resist it.

Jesus, the greatest dreamer of all, is with us.

He has asked us for fidelity to the dream, and it is he who will give us the courage to live it out.

 

 

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