Advent 3B: Asking the right questions

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians, 5:16-24, John 1:6-8, 19-28

In this week’s gospel, the priests, Levites and Pharisees have many questions for John the Baptist. As leaders, they want to know whether they should endorse John and join him or denounce and avoid him.  They are doing their due diligence. Exactly what Paul tells us to do in the reading from Thessalonians: “Test everything. Keep what is good. Abstain from evil.”

When we are trying to decide if something is good or evil, the questions we ask make a difference. They reveal whether we are looking for the truth or looking for an excuse.

Since before November, we have known that the best way to protect health care workers, essential workers, our friends and neighbors and the economy was to stay home when possible, social distance and wear a mask.

Thousands of people did not like that reality, so they asked other questions: can I go home for Thanksgiving if I get a test? Which test? Will it be ok if we keep the dining room windows open? We’ve probably all seen the pictures of airports filled with crowds of people waiting in line standing shoulder to shoulder.

Before that, since May, a Republican Senate has refused to consider the HEROES Act which had been passed by the House. That measure would have helped stabilize the economy by protecting small businesses and the unemployed. The questions which the Republican senators asked were about their own re-election prospects, not the welfare of their constituents.          

The questions we ask make all the difference. They reveal whether we are looking for the truth or for an excuse.

Womanist theology suggests that the questions we ask should be about “justice, survival and quality of life.” [1] And not just for those of us who are privileged because we are white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, pensioned and/or able-to-work-or-study-from-home.  We should be asking about “justice, survival and quality of life” from the perspective of those who are least-advantaged. These days, our questions should come from the perspective of…

  • People living in nursing homes which have a higher percentages of Black or Hispanic residents. They are more likely to contract Covid and die, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Tampa Bay Times, 11/11/20 and The New York Times, 9/10/20, and     
  • African-American direct care workers. They make up approximately 30 percent of the 4.5 million personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants working in private homes, group homes, residential care facilities, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement facilities, nursing care facilities and hospitals. PHI Research Brief, February 6, 2018. Studies show that health care workers are at increased risk for exposure and infection relative to the general population. [2]

We may not like the answers to these questions. It may mean that this year at Christmas there will be no family visits, no church or pageant, no Santa Claus, no gifts, no fun. Hopefully, we can remember that the anointed one speaking in Isaiah says that God’s message of good news is for the oppressed and the brokenhearted. May we do what we can to help bring that message to fruition.

Next week: Advent 4 & Movement 4 – A challenge to the existing order.

[1] Monica A. Coleman’s postmodern Womanist vision of “Making a Way Out of No Way” entails: (1)God’s presentation of unforeseen possibilities, (2) human agency, (3) the goals of justice, survival and quality of life and (4) a challenge to the existing order. Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN.) 2008 at 93.

[2] KFF, Racial Equity and Health Policy, November 11, 2020.

Photo: Badge ID of Deborah Gatewood, a phlebotomist at Beaumont Hospital, Detroit, for 30 years. She died of Covid-related symptoms on April 17, 2020 after having been denied a Covid test 4 different times by the hospital at which she worked.