Reflections on the Gospels from a Justice Perspective written for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church by members of the congregation

Sunday, March 31, 2013

John 20:19-31

Thomas made a good point when he insisted on seeing and touching the wounds caused by Christ's violent death. When violence deeply wounds the body of Christ, as it is doing in our own time, it demands our attention.

On the day after Palm Sunday about forty Madison Episcopalians participated in the same Way of the Cross liturgy that our bishop and other church leaders were enacting that day in Washington, D. C. Besides lamenting recent victims of violence in Sandy Hook and Chicago, we confessed the ways in which our own actions and inactions have contributed to our "culture of violence" and asked God to help us change. Here are some brief excerpts from the First Station:

"We are reduced to weeping silence [when children are massacred in their school], even as we breed a violent culture, even as we kill the sons and daughters of our so-called 'enemies,' even as we fail to cherish and protect the forgotten in our common life."

"Loving God, we beseech you to move powerfully in our body politic. Move us toward peaceableness that does not want to hurt or kill; move us toward justice so that the troubled and the forgotten may know mercy; move us toward forgiveness, so that we may escape the trap of revenge."

"Open our mouths to speak and our lives to act in ways that affirm, build up, and rejoice in every one of your children. Give us a voice to call for just laws, for an end to hatred and violence, for ready access to mental health services . . . Let us never wash our hands of any life lost and never cease to witness to your love until all are safe and living in peace."

Monday, March 11, 2013

17 March 2013 John 12:1-8

17 March 2013     John 12:1-8            Mad Acts of Extravagance

I find that harsh criticism of apparent extravagance is very common, especially among those of us who profess concern about the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.  I just read "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder – the story of Paul Farmer “the man who would cure the world.” Harvard-based medical anthropologist and physician Farmer is best known for providing “first-world” health care to “third-world” people, beginning in Haiti. Dr. Farmer and his colleagues have pioneered novel, community-based treatment strategies (especially for drug-resistant TB and AIDS) that demonstrate the delivery of high-quality health care in resource-poor settings. Critics of his work have used various terms. “Inappropriate Technology” was the phrase of the World Health Organization and various drug companies as he struggled to demonstrate that disease-resistant TB was, indeed, curable in the slums of Peru and the Central Plateau of Haiti. “The country can’t afford it” was another favorite criticism as he demonstrated that he could stop the spread of AIDS in Haiti. “You could save so many more” was the criticism when funds were spent to fly seriously ill patients to Boston for treatment. “Poor use of time and talent” was the criticism when Farmer hiked over seven hours to see two patients.

 Farmer's response to all those criticisms was that the “preferential option for the poor” (the guiding force behind all his actions) simply requires us to do the right thing. He constantly repeated, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.” He pointed out that we always ask the wrong questions. Why don't we ask questions about making drugs less expensive, or compare the $100,000 salary of a doctor against the $20,000 cost of treating a Haitian in Boston? Farmer asks us to re-frame what we commonly see as mad acts of extravagance. How can we begin to view everything through the lens of “all lives matter” and “it’s the right thing to do”?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Luke 13:1-5-- Reacting to the Misfortunes of Others

"Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?"

It is dangerously easy to draw the wrong lessons from the misfortunes of others. I don't believe that those who lose everything in natural disasters have been singled out for punishment by God, but I find it easy and comforting to assume that most victims of misfortune have done something wrong– made some error or yielded to some temptation that explains and justifies their suffering. When I encounter people who are homeless, I automatically suspect them of laziness or other character flaws. When I hear about people whose kids have become involved with drugs or gun violence, my first thought is that they must have been bad parents. Do you tend to make such assumptions too?

What if other people's misfortunes made us realize our own failings instead of blaming the victims and feeling superior? That seems to be what Jesus is suggesting when he warns his listeners in Luke 13:1-5 to repent of their own sins, lest they all perish like the victims they've been talking about.

What positive changes might occur if we accepted the victims of misfortune as our brothers and sisters, our moral equals in Christ, and got to know them as individuals? What if we stood in solidarity with the homeless people on our streets, or with at-risk kids and their parents? If we worked together with them, how might we start making our community fairer, more welcoming, and safer for everybody?