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Why Some in Congress Want to Avoid the Wilderness

We have to assume, I think, that they didn’t come as a cohort – the Pharisees and Sadducees, that is.
Just some, maybe only a few, of each group appeared out there in the wilderness of Judea, where John the Baptizer was dipping people in the Jordan River – those who heeded his call to repent.

Given the standing they had in their community, who could blame those Pharisees and Sadducees who decided to stay put back in Jerusalem?

Why repent for doing very well those regular tasks of being super self-righteous (the Pharisees) and protecting the interests of the rich and powerful (the Sadducees)?

And if word somehow got back to them about how their colleagues out there in the wilderness were abusively treated by John, they had all the more reason to stay safely at home.

Who wanted then, or wants now, to be outed publicly as part of a “brood of vipers”?

And just imagine the ribbing those Pharisees and Sadducees got from their stay-safely-at-home colleagues when they returned to Jerusalem. Surely someone came up with the question: “And just how was the water, you ole snake?”

But maybe the small group of Pharisees and Sadducees who did put up with the Baptizer’s ire – who were persuaded that the reign of God was coming near, and chose to repent of their sins and wade into the Jordan to be baptized – had the last laugh.

Maybe, that is, their decision to forgo all the benefits of their earlier life and strike out on an entirely different path was, in the end, the smarter and more rewarding move.

Maybe their colleagues who elected to avoid the wilderness paid a high price for remaining unrepentant – the price of delayed or prohibited entry into that kingdom of God that John was, and Jesus soon would be, proclaiming.

One has to wonder if any in the U.S. Congress are willing to risk taking a trek to the wilderness before the end of the year.

Time is short for the conference committee working on a national farm bill to reach a decision about just how much to cut from the food stamp program for poor Americans.

Members of Congress couldn’t agree earlier this year on that issue on the size of the cuts: some Democrats wanted to reduce the program by $4 billion while most Republicans wanted 10 times that amount.

Meanwhile, 47 million Americans lost a portion of their food stamp support on Nov. 1 because no agreement had been reached and a temporary program to increase benefits (included in the 2009 stimulus bill) ended.

A family of four that had been receiving $668 a month is now receiving $36 less. Children and the elderly are most affected, according to many analysts.

Yes, it’s true that Congress is also considering reform of the way farm owners are subsidized for their production (or lack of production). And there are disputes between different kinds of growers regarding who will come out better or worse in any new legislation.

It seems increasingly clear that the growers are going to come out just fine on a relative scale.

The same surely can’t be said for those who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. They most assuredly are going to be the real and large losers.

That means, despite their significant differences, virtually all of those in the government are managing to avoid the wilderness where the call to repentance is still being proclaimed.

Could we pray during this Advent season that some would venture out into that wilderness and be willing to take John’s abuse in order to experience the coming of the one who called on his disciples to feed the hungry?

Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.