It’s clear. It’s specific. It’s indisputable. Jesus said this is what righteous people do.
The author of the gospel of Matthew places this message at the end of the twenty-fifth chapter, just before beginning the account of Jesus’ last days — his passion, his arrest, trail, and execution. These are Jesus’ “final words,” his “parting message,” to his followers. This is what matters. It is by this standard that you will be measured. “I was hungry and you fed me.”
But when did we ever see the Lord hungry and feed him? Whenever you did this for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me. That is Jesus’ message. Clear. Specific. Not metaphorical, but quite literal. You see a hungry person? Feed her and you feed me.
I was overcome with grief and horror when I read about the plight of the people of the Horn of Africa as I was doing research for last Sunday’s sermon. Twenty million people in Somalia and South Sudan and Yemen at risk of severe famine. The equivalent of the entire population of Iowa and Wisconsin and Minnesota and Missouri combined, all starving to death.
If that were indeed true here, we would think it a crisis of apocalyptic proportions. It is a crisis of apocalyptic proportions! I could not do nothing: “I was hungry and you fed me.” If you want to do something, consider a gift to the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA), a relief organization based in Minneapolis. A gift of $150 supplies one family with a relief package that includes a “food basket, nutrition packs for children, and water“ (https://araha.org/drought-relief-2/).
Jesus put it simply: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
As yourself …
How do you love yourself? Out of pity? As a duty? Because you have to?
Or is your love for yourself a desire for well-being and happiness, just because you want well-being and happiness? Don’t you defend yourself because you believe you deserve to be treated fairly? Aren’t you patient and kind with yourself, because you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and know you are still learning, still becoming? And don’t you accept help, when you do, with gratitude, believing it is offered not out of pity, but out of love, because people care about you like you care about them? Because you matter?
Isn’t your love for yourself based on a belief in your own inherent dignity and worth?
A friend shared an article with me today. You should read it. It is subtitled:
We need to change the conversation about poverty and inequality. It starts with compassion and kindness.
We need to change the conversation, to see poverty, not from the outside, but from the inside, to set aside stereotypes and see our neighbors as they are, to lead with compassion, to learn to love our neighbors … as ourselves.
An excerpt from the article …
When researchers at Princeton University showed two groups of viewers the same video of a little girl answering questions about school subjects, they told the first group that her parents were affluent professionals. They told the second group that she was the daughter of a meat packer and a seamstress.
The girl, named Hannah, performed right at grade level on the videotaped test, answering some questions correctly and missing others. But when asked about her performance, the first group, primed to believe she was wealthy, felt that she had performed above grade level. The second group, primed to believe she was not, felt that she had performed below.
It was the same video, mind you — the same girl, answering the same questions in the exact same way. But their conclusions were totally different.
1) Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle declined to press charges in the case of Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic prison inmate who died in June 2012 after being locked in a hot shower for two hours, saying that “the evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.”
witnesses [interviewed by the Miami Herald] including a nurse on duty that night, and several inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past two years, have said that two corrections officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clark, forced Rainey into an enclosed, locked shower stall and that the water had been cranked as high as 180 degrees from a neighboring room, where the heat controls were. … Rainey screamed in terror and begged to be let out for more than an hour until he collapsed and died.
when his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.
Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession.
When a mentally-ill minor drug offender is imprisoned, does he forfeit all his rights, all his human rights, including the right to live? Who protects him? (If not us?) Who will ensure him justice? (If not us?)
2) Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last Thursday that she will not pursue death sentences for any capital cases during her time in office. That earned her a angry rebuke from Florida governor Rick Scott who removed from her jurisdiction the high profile case of a man charged with killing a police officer, saying she “has made it clear that she will not fight for justice.”
Because only a death satisfies justice? If blood revenge is the only means of “fighting for justice” (which is what the death penalty is, after all, blood revenge), what does that say about us?
Death sentences are notoriously inequitable in their application, do not provide any deterrence, cost taxpayers more, do not bring “resolution” to grieving families, rather, and as Ayala observed, “cases drag on for years, adding to victims’ anguish.” Could it be that refusing to pursue death sentences is in fact “fighting for justice?” Because the question remains, beyond any concerns about fairness and effectiveness, is killing by the state just? Or is it an overreach and abuse of power and a corrosive threat to our humanity?
Which of these prosecutors is fighting for justice? Which showed courage? Which represents the best of who we are as human beings?
A leading member of the environmental justice arm of the EPA, a twenty-year public servant under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, Mustafa Ali, has resigned. Here is his explanation:
I never saw in the past a concerted effort to roll back the positive steps that many, many people have worked on through all the previous administrations … I can’t be a part of anything that would hurt those [disadvantaged] communities. I just couldn’t sign off on those types of things.
In his letter of resignation to EPA director Scott Pruitt, Ali wrote:
When I hear we are considering making cuts to grant programs like the EJ small grants or Collaborative Problem Solving programs, which have assisted over 1,400 communities, I wonder if our new leadership has had the opportunity to converse with those who need our help the most. I strongly encourage you and your team to continue promoting agency efforts to validate these communities’ concerns, and value their lives.
This is our home, the home we share, the home given us as a gift and a blessing by our Creator, the home entrusted to us to preserve and protect and enjoy.
This is our home! — the home we bequeath to our children and our grandchildren and to generations of children of God to come. And this home will feed them and enthrall them and delight them, too … if we care for it.
The new administration is proposing and enacting dramatic changes in governance on many fronts: a travel ban on immigrants and refugees from a few particular Muslim-majority nations, expanded deportation of undocumented residents, repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, removing protections for transgender youth, ramping up the nuclear arms race, a budget that sharply increases defense spending and makes radical cuts to program and agencies that are intended to serve and protect the most vulnerable of our citizens.
But of all the newly implemented policies, one of the most disturbing to me is the virtual abandonment of environmental stewardship. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times op-ed by William Ruckelshaus, who served as the first administrator of the newly-created Environmental Protection Agency from 1970-1973 and again as EPA administrator under Ronald Reagan from 1983-1985:
One of the factors leading to the creation of E.P.A. was the recognition that without a set of federal standards to protect public health from environmental pollution, states would continue to compete for industrial development by taking short cuts on environmental protection. The laws that the E.P.A. administers create a strong federal-state partnership that has worked well for over 40 years. The federal government sets the standards and the states enforce them, with the E.P.A. stepping in only if the states default on their responsibilities.
Budget cuts that hurt programs that states now have in place to meet those duties run the risk of returning us to a time when some states offered industries a free lunch, creating havens for polluters. This could leave states with strong environmental programs supported by the public at a competitive disadvantage compared to states with weak programs. In other words, it could lead to a race to the bottom.
A race to the bottom is a race to a despoiled home, a ruined planet. Environmental protection is not a partisan issue. Ruckelshaus is a Republican, a Reagan Republican. If you pit business against environment, both lose. Both lose! Gutting the EPA serves no useful purpose, no purpose at all, except for some small short term profit for a few resource-exploitive industries at the expense of long term disaster.
And gutting the EPA seems to be the goal. Here is a sampling of proposed cuts in the fiscal 2018 Trump budget taken from a OregonLive report:
In other words, the government of the people, by the people and for the people has no interest in cleaning up polluted swimming beaches, dirty air, and poisoned homes, and has no interest in preserving some of our nation’s natural gems like Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, and the Great Lakes which account for 1/5 of the freshwater surface on the planet. There is no needed federal investment in preparing the next generation of good stewards of our precious natural resources and no interest in pursuing environmental justice, no interest in addressing the unbalanced impact of environmental degradation on vulnerable populations.
And climate change? The greatest looming threat to life in earth as we know it, undisputed by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists? We don’t need to worry about that. Making a few more bucks matters more. Right?
I pray that the administration will heed wise counselors like William Ruckelshaus and the will of the American people, the majority of whom who do care about preserving the environment (Gallup polling) even if the economy is adversely impacted, and do the right thing. This is our home!
The latest issue of The Christian Century magazine includes an interview with Alexia Salvatierra, a Lutheran pastor and leader in the sanctuary movement. This is a good starting point for understanding both the history and the present focus of the sanctuary movement. Salvatierra offers a measured, reasonable, nuanced, and faithful vision of a distinctively Christian response to the contemporary debate over immigration policies and practices. Here is an excerpt:
Most people know that our immigration system is ineffective. If you take a step closer to it, you find out that it is illogical, and if you take another step closer, you find out that it is inhumane. Many of us are not looking for open borders; we believe that a country has the right to an immigration system. But we want an immigration system that is effective, logical, fair, and humane, and ours is none of the above. It is a crazy patchwork of laws, many of which break apart families and penalize the kinds of people we want in our country.
For example, since 1995 the United States has allowed a total of 5,000 visas per year for unskilled workers. But for years this country has imported most of its agricultural workers. More than 80 percent of the agricultural workers are currently immigrants. But only 5,000 are allowed to come legally — plus there is a guest worker program that covers about 200,000 people. We need far more workers than that. As the Southern Baptist leader Richard Land has pointed out, we say, “Come, we need your labor” on the one hand, “but we are not going to give you any status” on the other.
As a result of these aspects of the system, about 12 million people are working in the shadows. Ninety percent of undocumented men are working. They are here because the country needs their labor. They’ve been here for decades and have kids who are citizens. In 1995, the United States decided that children could only petition for citizenship for their parents in extreme and unusual circumstances. So there are many families in which the parents are working but undocumented.
“The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
(Donald Trump in a Dec. 22, 2016 tweet)
This seems to me to be akin to saying: “We must pour more gasoline on the fire that threatens to consume us all until the world learns how to put out fires.” You don’t make the world a safer place by making it more dangerous. You don’t protect the people — your own people or anybody else — by exposing them to greater risk.
“I am the first one that would like to see nobody have nukes, but we’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country. We’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power.”
(Donald Trump in a February 23, 2017 interview)
Again, the statement is self-defeating. If it is a inviolable maxim that “we’re never going to fall behind,” then the wish “to see nobody have nukes” is an empty and meaningless and disingenuous desire. Peace, real peace, always requires sacrifice. Jesus showed the way. The unwillingness to sacrifice, the unwillingness to love an enemy — where love means the readiness to trust, or even the readiness to risk betrayed trust for the possibility of a better end for both you and your enemy — that unwillingness guarantees perpetual mistrust, perpetual conflict, the certainty of death.
Were it not for Jesus, that would be our destiny, the destiny of all of us, the destiny of the human race — certain death. But Jesus lives and we live, to live for Jesus, by choosing his way. If the world has hope, this is it: that we will choose another way, not the way of Mutual Assured Destruction (MADness!), but the way of disarming, disarming both our arsenals and our hatreds.
No path to peace can work unless it is a path we all walk together. “Never going to fall behind” is not that path, because if we all walk it ……