Ferial: 30 June 2012
To the Men and Women Who Want to Govern America:
Please, be much more careful in what you say and what you do.
This morning, as the sun rose in the East, somewhere over Lake Victoria, and the sky became Blood Orange, I sat in Mass, in communion with my hosts, Trappist brothers from Our Lady of Victoria, a cloistered monastery out in the middle of the African bush, scores of kilometers away from the Internet, from television, from radio, or from the daily papers.
I have no serious knowledge of happenings back home since mid-May. Yet somewhere during the readings from this morning, my mind turned to America and to the politics and the rhetoric and the mayhem that must be underway.
The first reading came from Jeremiah’s Book of Lamentations. The civil and religious authorities back then thought that they were doing the correct things, divining the right path towards hegemony and towards supremacy, and they assumed God’s accord. But in his book, Jeremiah laments a different state of affairs, a state of sanctimony, a state of abuses of power and privilege, and of assumptions of prescience. As early as the second chapter, he cries out:
(2: 14) “Thy prophets have seen false and foolish things for thee: and they have not laid open the iniquity, to excite thee to penance: but they have seen for thee false revelations and banishments.”
(2: 16) “All thy enemies have opened their mouth against thee: … We will swallow her up: lo, this is the day which we looked for: we have found it, we have seen it.”
Israel’s demise had nothing to do with might, with a faltering sense of national pride or with doubt in its economy or its institutions. Israel had forgotten that its God favored those who were humbled, and who looked after those in fragile conditions: the poor, the widowed, the sick, the afflicted, the foreigner and alien. Israel had supplemented God’s preferences with its own, and had, when convenient or advantageous in its eyes, bowed to false idols it constructed and then mythicized.
This morning’s Gospel came from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Christ and his apostles enter Capernaum and are met by a Roman centurion who asks Christ to heal his servant. Christ says he will comply. The centurion then states to the wandering mendicant Jesus:
(6: 8) “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof: but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.”
At which Jesus marvels, and that makes the following statement “to them that followed him”:
(6: 10-12) “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith in Israel.
“And I say to you that many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven:
“But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into the exterior darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
We Americans often in our history have referred to our nation as being a Modern Israel, a nation under God. We post the Ten Commandments in our halls of justice and of representative governance. We attend synagogues and churches and mosques weekly. And we assume that we are in the right. We wear the long robes, and we expect salutations in the public arena, and when we go to the restaurant, to the opera, or to the cathedral, we choose the high seats, front and center.
Christ chose publicans and prostitutes, and Samaritans and lepers and centurions, adulterous women, and the repentant thief/revolutionary upon the cross next to his.
In the gospel, it is an officer of an occupying army of a pagan empire who has greater faith than all of the chosen people, the people professed to be in accord with God’s covenant. An uncircumcised pagan, from a civilization that does not keep kosher, that tolerates interpersonal behavior not in accord with the books of Moses, he can see more clearly the presence of God and his inherent healing power, than even the disciples who follow Christ from town to town witnessing and listening and sharing all the hours in his days.
How often do we dismiss the “pagans” in our world as unclean, unworthy, unsaved, beyond God’s grace?
In this political year, I would invite those running to gain office and those running to hold onto office to sit quietly and in candid humility with Jeremiah and with Christ, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel, and to ponder the precepts of the prophet and the Son of God, and to measure their own sense of public service and obligation, to those laid out by those who have come before, and to take a eschatological perspective when weighing on public policy, particularly as it pertains to the poor, the imprisoned, the marginalized, the lepers in our society, the aliens in our midst.
(Mt. 7: 21) “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
(Mt. 25: 42- 43, 45) “For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink.
“I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me…”
“Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you di it to me.”
Christ is not tergiversating. Why must we?
Shalom – Salaam – Amani – Pax