Nations Are Judged By Treatment Of the Most Vulnerable: A Lenten Meditation by a Roman Catholic Woman Priest
Readers of all faiths and no particular faith are invited to take a deep breath, exhale slowly and focus on our world and our country at this point in time. Focus on what is right and beautiful and focus on what is ugly and unjust, on the “haves and have-nots” and on those trying hard to have, to share, and to build a just Nation. You may be surprised when I say that the coinciding of Lent in the Christian tradition and the U.S. Presidential Primaries and debates DO have something in common. I will try to draw some of those commonalities here. This is at risk of alienating those who are sick of politics and promises loosely made and rarely kept. But it is also necessary and hopeful in encouraging the connections between what we value and believe in the Scriptures and applying it not only individually but as a National entity.
My ears and my whole being perked up in the recent Democratic TV debate when two of the candidates, not totally in sync with one another, quoted similar scriptures when asked their favorite quotes: Elizabeth Warren quoted Matthew 25: 40 in the King James version ” Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me”. (Or in The Priests for Equality Inclusive Bible (TIB): “…the truth is , every time you did this for the least of my sisters or brothers, you did it for me”. And the corollary is Matthew 25:45 ” “The truth is, as often as you neglected to do this to the least of these,you neglected to do it to me…. only the just will go off to eternal life.”) And Pete Buttigeig quoted the Golden rule. “You should love your neighbor as yourself”. And each of the other candidates without quoting scripture made points about how they would make policy and or program provision for the “least of these”, including the homeless, the sick, particularly those without money, and children and youth seeking education as well as daily breakfast and immigrants and migrants. These aspirations for the Nation were very much in line with the Golden rule and Matthew 25, with or without saying so. All were hopeful for a new day for the underserved and those for whom racism, classism and gender inequality have taken its toll. Sure, the “devil is in the details” and the details of all plans and hopes need work, but at least the start of such altruistic aspirations and plans were good to hear.
As it is now, under the current Administration, where would the USA stand in the Matthew 25 “judgement of the sheep and the goats?” To provide context-this is where Jesus frames the scene as a judgement of nations, of countries while we often apply it only to our individual lives, thereby getting only a part of the point being made. Not only do we singly have to measure up to the “rule of love,” but our country, our nation needs to do so as a Nation, as well. Matthew 25:32 states: “All the nations will be brought before him, and as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,so will he do with them, placing the sheep on his right and the goats on his left”- and those who do not feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome strangers into their homes/nations-house the stranger and the homeless- and clothe the naked and visit/take care of the sick and imprisoned will be considered the “just” and will be gathered in with the good sheep. Moreover in doing so the nation and individual that does these kind and merciful things is actually doing those acts of kindness as if God stood there before them as a hungry, thirsty, outsider/stranger in need of a home, a doctor, and a welcome. So, how does the USA as a Nation do with the application of the “Golden Rule” that Jesus emphasizes (Matthew 25:31-46)? This “Rule” actually originates in the Hebrew Tradition in Leviticus 191-2,11-18 ending with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”.
These scriptural passages were in yesterdays, March 2nd 2020 Lenten meditations. And in today’s Lenten meditation Jesus teaches us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth. (In context this is God’s will for justice, especially for the poor and most vulnerable). While today’s Psalm 34 reminds us that ” When the poor one cried out, the Lord heard…The Lord has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry…and is close to the broken-hearted and those who are crushed in spirit.” Too often we make this about our individual emotional or spiritual states but I close my eyes and see parents and children being separated, torn apart, at the US-Mexico border and people dying on the arduous journey to the closed door they thought represented freedom and safety. And, in keeping with our Good Shepherd’s Ministry to the homeless and poorest among us, I shrink at the numbers of people of all ages still living in the streets in the USA.
How does the USA enact and operationalize this precious Golden rule? How do we as a Nation include the interests of the most vulnerable in our policies and programs? How do the Presidential candidates enliven and enact this rule in their own lives as well as in their proposed or actual programs, policies and actions? While we are sick of political disappointments and may want to pull back-this is the time to energize to do the opposite. To find the best of the very human candidates to vote for- and to do it, and help others to get out and vote as well. Not to say,”I’m not voting-there is no one I like”. That simply leaves the decision to someone else who may not want to live the Golden rule in this time of great greed and lack of global and environmental awareness. It means assigning the environment and all of its creatures to the needs of the greedy to get more. We need instead to look forward to Spring in this winter of discontent. To embrace the new growth that can surely happen.
To quote Sr. Chris Koellhoffer,IHM in http://www.livingwithchrist.us the word “Lent” derives from a word meaning Springtime. It evokes the feeling of seeing the new purpleblue crocus poking its head through the ice and snow as winter recedes, or the sheer beauty of a Spring day. While in many climates winter seems cold , iced over,barren and permanent, it is not. The cycle or spiral of life is still underneath and moves forward and makes itself known, sometimes when we need it most. Sr. Chris asks that we enter into this liturgical Springtime with deep listening to the word of God in the Scriptures and with “deep faith in God’s creative power to bring forth life in every heart,in every corner of our world”. Lent is traditionally a time of thoughtful and deep meditation with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. That is ,we take stock of ourselves and our shortcomings, and this can include of our Country and its shortcomings held up to the light of the Scriptures, and we fast from anything that would be unhealthy for us spiritually , as well as physically, and with a smile on our faces not a “woe is me” for trying to change something difficult with our “fasts” and prayers, we then ACT in compassion for justice and peace. And we do this in a million small ways right where we are. And those ways now need to include making wise political decisions and holding those decisions up to the light of the scriptures, and to the light of day.
The Network federation of Sisters religious (famous for the nuns on the bus and their lifegiving, including, political activities) have a website that can inspire and guide us in this direction. Here is a link to their Network Advocates and an article about Spirit-Filled Voting that is challenging and clear. https://www.networkadvocates.org/spiritfilledvoters/listening/ Also http://www.votecommongood.com Sister Emily TeKloste of the Network Lobby for Catholic Soical Justice teaches us to Listen First, then Act. What good advice! And there are so many coalitions of interfaith religious, and of secular groups to save the environment or assist migrants and refugees, and coalitions of people who work for getting out the vote, there is a place for every one of us to get involved in making something new happen.
So for Lent, this year do something, anything, and DO the most you can do to enact justice and make sure our Nation does the same!
Blessings and love as Lent continues on to the Cross and YES, to the Rising up from the dead!
For the “least of these”,
Pastor Judy Lee,
Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Florida
Rev. Dr. Judith Lee, RCWP, DMin, DSW, MS