Image: Sinéad O’Connor, The Lion and the Cobra (US album cover), 1987. Depending on where you live, there are two different covers for her debut album. For the American release, the label went with this “angelic” portrait of the artist with her arms crossed against her chest, eyes cast downward, mouth shut before a glowing, white background. It was an alternative to the one she preferred, used throughout the rest of the world. There, her mouth is open, eyebrows arched, shoulders thrown back slightly … As a young artist’s introduction to a new audience, this depiction was deemed a little too angry, too provocative. In her memoir, Rememberings, O’Connor recalls the shoot. The photographer was playing the album back, encouraging her to respond naturally as the cameras flashed. “I look like I’m screaming,” she writes. “In fact, I was singing.”

‘Weeping and gnashing of teeth’

Andrew Collis
Ordinary Sunday 28, Year A
Psalm 160; Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:1-14

In the presence of this parable, we may well freeze, speechless …

The central character of the parable is one who dares attend a royal function (in response, we note, to a tyrant’s invitation) without the requisite garment – thus challenging the tyrant’s authority. We might think of Jesus defying the powers, withdrawing from unjust systems, refusing to play along; bound hand and foot, cast out. We might ponder this “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (these cries of distress, pain, anger/protest). We might think of many silent or silenced protesters.

Here’s a picture of the early Jesus movement (Philippians 4:1-9): Saul of Tarsus had regarded a nonviolent minority a threat to be eliminated. The apostle Paul sees the same nonviolent minority as the body of Christ – a body worthy of veneration – and writes: “… your thoughts should be wholly directed to all that is true, all that deserves respect, all that is honest, pure, decent, admirable, virtuous or worthy of praise. Live according to what you have learned and accepted, what you have heard me say and seen me do. Then will the God of peace be with you.”

While most consider the Nobel Prize a major honour, two winners have voluntarily declined the award. Here’s a picture of Jean-Paul Sartre, who refused all official awards, and did not accept the 1964 literature prize (neither medal nor money). In 1974 he was joined by Le Duc Tho, who, with Henry Kissinger, shared the peace prize for their work to end the Vietnam War.

And here’s a picture of the late Sinéad O’Connor, who released her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, in March of 1990. The work quickly garnered critical acclaim. It was mystical, punk, orchestral folk rock – a rumination on disillusionment, forgiveness, love lost, and the hypocrisies of modern life. She sang about leaving inauthentic people behind and the ends of her own relationships; she also brought up Margaret Thatcher and the police murder of young black men in the UK. Her work was unvarnished, lyrically raw, and direct (marked by much “weeping and gnashing of teeth”).

When the album was nominated for several Grammys in February 1991, O’Connor shocked the industry. Not only did the artist bail on attending the celebrated event, she also refused to accept any awards if she won (which she did for Best Alternative Music Performance). This was a first.

In October 1992, the singer appeared on Saturday Night Live, tore a photo of the pope and made a statement against the church’s history of child abuse and cover-ups. “Until the ignoble and unhappy regime/ Which holds all of us through/ Child abuse, yeah, child abuse yeah/ Sub-human bondage has been toppled/ Utterly destroyed/ Everywhere is war … We have confidence in the victory/ Of good over evil/ Fight the real enemy!” (after Bob Marley, “War”, 1976). “Fight the real enemy” was the clearest way she could think to communicate her message. Many viewers took it as a provocation to fight her directly.

Here’s a picture of Big Brother housemate Merlin Luck after being evicted from the Big Brother house in 2004. We can imagine he spent some time planning his silent reality-TV protest – mindful of much real-world “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

Here’s a picture of American footballer Colin Kaepernick, before an NFL game in October 2016. “Taking a knee” is a symbolic gesture against racism whereby an individual kneels on one knee in place of standing to attention for an anthem or other such occasion.

And here’s a picture of Grace Tame, 2021 Australian of the Year, sullen-faced beside a prime minister who had to think of workplace sexual assault “as a father” rather than a leader. (“Having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience,” Tame said at the time.) She shouldn’t “have” to smile next to a man whose government created an action plan to address violence against women and children that contained “no genuine commitment, no legitimate action, just hollow words”.

Here’s a picture of Ukrainian tennis player Marta Kostyuk who refused to shake hands with Anastasia Potapova after she was beaten 6-1, 6-3 by the Russian in their second-round match at the Miami Open in March …

Here’s a picture of Rebecca J. Alvarez, a queer mixed-race trauma therapist and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace (New York), who says: “To be clear, I don’t condone the taking of innocent life. Regardless of what many people believed Zionism was, the ultimate impact of this ideology has been oppression and conflict. The Israeli government may have just declared war on Hamas, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation – and international complicity in that oppression – are the source of this violence.

“For the past year, the most racist, fundamentalist, far-right government in Israeli history has ruthlessly escalated its military occupation over Palestinians in the name of Jewish supremacy, with violent expulsions and home demolitions, mass killings, military raids on refugee camps, unrelenting siege, and daily humiliation.

“I teach my clients about trauma-informed care, which includes coming out of my own freeze state and into thoughtful responses to human suffering. It includes separating out the false binary of a victim/perpetrator narrative and instead seeking ways to empower choice, voice and freedom.”

Rewording the nimshal or moral of our parable: All of us are called to share our lives with Christ and with the outcasts and those hungry for justice but, sadly, not all of us are willing to forego belief in vengeance and entitlement. Too few of us are willing to choose justice and peace-making, hospitality and grace.

The Rev. Dr Garry Worete Deverell writes: “Unless we put aside our pride entirely and welcome the crucified Jesus in the form and face of our crucified brothers and sisters, then grace remains nothing more than a platonic ‘idea’, hanging splendid and beautiful in the heavens, but never real enough to change or transform people in either space or time. In a very real sense, the resurrection of Jesus into the glory of God will not be complete until the whole earth, including all those who have suffered injustice and discrimination at the hands of others, are also included in his bloody, costly grace.”

In the name of God – Lover, Beloved, Spirit of Love. Amen.