Why Do We Fail to Hear?


I watched a bit of the “family values” summit in Iowa yesterday. Most of the GOP field was there to seek the blessings of these “good Christians.”

Applause was loudest for repealing that odious marriage equality decision forced upon an unwilling electorate by “rogue” judges. Next in applause was for all efforts to make sure that “illegal aliens” were prevented from using health care and other safety net provisions of Iowa laws.

A week or so ago, Herman Cain was loudly praised for his desire to put up a 20-foot fence along the border, and electrify it so keep out the unwanted.

A few weeks before that, a gay soldier was booed when he asked would any of the GOP candidates work to undo the gains made by LGBT members in the Armed Services.

Meanwhile Rick Perry plummets in the polls for having the audacity to suggest that it would be heartless to deprive children who are citizens by virtue of birth here from college funding programs offered to non-Latino children with nary a thought.

And the folks who boo or applaud these things think of themselves as “good” Christians. In fact they revel in the fact. They sit in utter sanctimonious splendor as speakers soothe their occasional guilt, citing a verse here and there supposedly assuring them that charity begins and ends with the church and not with any government program. How else to deprive the  “unworthy” of sharing with those who are worthy.

Today’s reading from Exodus instructs us that far far back in Jewish history as recorded in Exodus, the Israelites were reminded that they owed care and concern for the aliens among them.

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.  (Ex 22: 20-22)

If there was any confusion on who was the alien, surely Jesus cleared that up when he taught the parable of the “Good Samaritan.”

But there is more. It is not just a matter of  “not molesting or oppressing”, as Exodus suggests. It is as Jesus suggested in the Samaritan parable and as he perfectly defined it in today’s Gospel reading:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22: 36-40)

The alien is our neighbor, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now what does that mean?

Jesus tells us that this second commandment is like the first, which tells us to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

So, we are to love ourselves in this same manner, and thus to the alien among us.

Why is this so?

It can only be, as far as I can tell, because God told us at the very beginning that all creation was “good”.

People often say that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” And I believe that is true. Whatever has been created was meant to be as it is. Thus we, as sentient beings, able and capable of discerning our Creator, must be what God intended. We must be in perfect way, loveable. We are worth loving. We are as intended.

Thus the  practice of some faith traditions of zeroing in on sin and our failings is patently wrong. We do fail to meet our own and God’s expectations, of that we can all be sure. But that should never over-ride the basic goodness within us as created beings.

And if we stand tall in our worthiness to be loved both by God, who assures us that this is true, and ourselves in recognition of that statement, then we are called to love everyone we encounter with that same fervor and certitude.

How many of us do that?

Fairly stated, we all fail miserably most of the time. We ignore most of the people whom we have no personal relationship with. We turn a blind eye to much of the suffering throughout the world, and indeed at home. We do this out of a certain sense of self-protection, since one would go mad if they didn’t keep themselves at least emotionally at some distance from the true misery that exists.

But most of us steel ourselves, we look away. We limit ourselves to a few gestures. We toss a few bucks in the “charity” dish on Sunday, and we make a big deal out of donating a few cans of food, or taking a turn now and then at a soup kitchen, or other public display of “giving”.

I’m not trying to judge what you do, versus what I do. I’m just as guilty of not doing enough as most are.

But we can surely stop this madness of lumping great groups of people together and claiming that somehow they don’t meet our standards of being worthy to be given to. We can surely stop declaring that “others” are not entitled to basic human decency because of the methodology of their arrival here.

One of the speakers at the Iowa forum yesterday was a man from Indian descent. He claimed to be a proud resident alien who had worked for his citizenship. He claimed that allowing “illegals” to gain state benefits of any kind in Iowa was a “slap in the face” to those of us who worked for our citizenship the legal way.

Well, I shook my head. Of course, he didn’t bother to acknowledge that his entry into this country illegally would have been a hard thing to pull off coming from India. He clearly had some real money to accomplish his dream of coming to America. He was not poor, with a large family barely making it. He did not face the dangers of trying to cross the border. He was not driven by poverty and the lack of meaningful hope for the future in his own country. I doubt that he was.

Yet he wishes to be one of the “ins” and separate himself from the “alien”. And, given where he was, and the group to which he spoke, I suspect he believes himself to be a “good” Christian.

Do you think God would agree?

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt (1630) shows t...

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Oct 23, 2011 @ 14:57:59

    Sherry, not by any stretch of imagination or even in a state of self-induced madness (which I tend to think is what has led so many professing Christians astray) could I conceive God agreeing with the discrimination and abuses so many heap on the neglected and strangers among us.

    Yet again returning to our pastor’s comments today (I trust I’m not becoming a nuisance with what’s becoming somewhat habitual), she took us back to the source of the “love your neighbor” component of Christ’s commandment (Leviticus 19.18). The edict concludes a litany of social obligations–some echoing The Ten Commandments–but many more enlarging on them, including “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to great” and “Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.”

    All of this is prefaced with an overarching imperative: “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” By virtue of our creation in God’s image, she reminded us, we identify as holy. But more than that, awareness of our holiness opens our eyes too holiness in every human. To diminish, neglect, or vilify one of them–let alone a class, ethnicity, or any other group–is to dishonor God’s holiness, without exception.

    And here’s the final boomerang that gives lie to the fallacy one can love God wholly and one’s neighbors selectively. Just as they say there’s no such thing as “almost pregnant,” either you’re in all the way or you’re so far removed from what Christ commands that no matter how you try to rationalize your unholy attitudes and behavior, you won’t make a shred of sense. That’s the only “in” or “out” God cares about.

    Of course, as usual, there’s a great cosmic joke wound into this, because being in all the way requires us to love those who think they’re in yet fail to meet God’s standards. They’re holy, too, because God created them, too. And I have no problem saying more often than not it’s much tougher to them than the needy and oppressed. Yet if we had the right to choose our neighbors, no doubt the world would be a bigger, unholier mess than it is.

    Sherry, your words call us to think and act cautiously about waywardness we witness in others. Leviticus 19.17 commands us to “rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.” By all means we should confess our dismay with those who pervert Christ’s commandment to serve their own ends–stopping short of going their way. You’ve given us a superb example of that here.



    • Sherry
      Oct 23, 2011 @ 15:53:42

      Alas Tim it always seems to me that to show profess their faith the loudest and in fact the first to pervert the meaning into a very human tendency to avow our own thinking and ways as superior to others, an thus God’s true belief. The Hebrew Testament is simply stocked full of examples of God’s admonition to care for each other, and all those who are for whatever reason on the outskirts of society. As you point out, God reminds us rather often that we are ‘images’ of the divine and as such, owe each other the reverence and love that we offer to God and God offers to each of us. And you are so right when you suggest that when we truly reverence God in holiness, we are able to see clearly the holiness of each other. God does not pick and choose and we must not either.

      Blessings, Sherry


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