You Are a Spice Rack – Br. Lain Wilson

John 7:37-52
Psalm 7:6-11

I’m sure most of us have spices in our pantries that just don’t get used that often. For me it’s fennel seed. I don’t really know what to do with it, and I’m happy using all the other, familiar spices.

And I’m sure that most of us can agree that cooking with just salt and pepper can be fairly boring.

As rich as the psalmist’s conception of God is, his descriptions of fellow people often feel a bit like salt-and-pepper cooking to me—simple binaries, like “righteous” and “wicked,” or types—the faithless friend. Of course, this isn’t what the Psalms are about; nevertheless, I often can’t help feeling a bit dissatisfied.

This morning’s Gospel reading displays a different dynamic. John describes the crowd as divided into at least three groups, in addition to the various authorities (who are themselves divided), and Jesus and his followers. This is a dramatic scene, with different beliefs, commitments, values, and desires demarcating the lines between and within the groups.

Nicodemus represents this. He’s a Pharisee and leader (Jn 3:1; Jn 7:50), who lays claim to “our law,” committed to both its authority and limitations. He’s also possibly a secret follower of Jesus, having come to him under cover of night earlier in the narrative. What he shows us here is not that his identities are exclusive, but that their coincidence, mixing, and expression make him an individual, set apart from the group. They give him agency, make him able to reach out, to speak for, to meet and relate with others in a different way.

We are each a vast assemblage, a veritable spice rack of identities—of commitments and allegiances and preferences and characteristics. Some of these are dominant, but all inform who we are. I’m standing here in front of you as a Novice of the Society, primarily, but that is informed, in different proportions, by my being a son, a white man, an amateur cook, and so on. Our identities may harden into binaries—the us-versus-them that we so frequently find in the psalms, and in our world today. But the promise of our rich, complex individuality is that our identities are dynamic and responsive, and we can choose to lean into all that makes us unique, all that can put us into relationship with countless and unexpected others.

I’m not sure what identity “fennel seed” corresponds to for me, but I do know that I leave ignored or underused much of what God has stocked my pantry with. And this is a shame, because God has stocked our pantries lavishly and lovingly.

What spice have you been avoiding? What identity do you ignore or hide, whether consciously or unconsciously? What would it mean to lay claim to it, to lean into it? What new invitations, what fresh relationships, may result?


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