A few days ago I was alerted by a bank teller that lo and behold my driver’s license was about to expire. I was so grateful that someone had noticed before I was caught by surprise. I looked into our home file of paper work and I found that not only was my driver’s license about to expire but so was my passport. I am starting to plan a sabbatical for next summer and might have a chance to use that passport, so now I had two things to update. And then, whoops! Time to get my old car inspected. Three in one. Off I went to spend a half a day standing in lines to deal with self and car inspection and identification.
The morning went remarkably smooth. I had the stack of paperwork that I need to prove that I am who I say that I am and I live where I say that I live. My car was not in quite as bad shape as I thought it was. The lines were pretty short. The people in all the offices were helpful and not too officious. About three hours after I started I was all clear to travel in and out of the country. I breathed a sign of relief.
All morning as I was shuffled from one office to another I thought about how privileged I am to have made it through this day without being turned away or worse. I have a place to live and a car to drive. I have papers to prove that I have an acceptable identity and I have enough money to pay all the fees. I have time to stand in line and I speak the language that the folks on the other side of the desk speak. I have a W2 form that says that I am a pastor in a local church and and sometimes that title opens doors. If my car failed inspection (which it might next time) I have resources to deal with it.
This coming Sunday our text for the day includes a Gospel story where Jesus is warning his disciples about what happens when we put blocks in front of people who are trying to make their way through what can be a very hostile world. He says “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
When Jesus talks about “the little ones” he is talking about people who do not have the advantages that I just described. Money. Age. Race. Class. Ability. Legal status. You name it. He is talking about people living on the margins and who are suspect and who cannot easily gather up a bunch of information and paperwork and money and transportation to prove who they are and be welcomed as they are. He calls on his disciples to beware when we place, or ignore, or jump over, stumbling blocks for other people.
My paperwork is put away until the next time that I am called on to get in line to prove my identity. Jesus’ words about stumbling blocks are glaring at me even as I am sighing relief after my day at the offices. I know that I had a very easy jump over a few hoops. I did not stumble. The path was cleared for me. I am thinking about the people I know who live in tents or worn out cars. People who do not have an address and those who struggle in one way or another with making it through the day never mind the registry of motor vehicles. My eyes and mind and heart are aching – they are so wide open.
Now I know why Jesus tells his disciples to think hard before choosing to follow him on his Way. I understand why he forbids us from talking too soon about who we say we are and who we say we are following. It is much easier (even with that millstone looming) to go about our own business, than seeing who is pushed to the back of the line or who never even gets past the officer at the door and who stumbles over what we so easily skip by. When I am asked the next time, just who do I think that I am, what should I say?