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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Luke 6:20-31

 Luke 6:20-31   Standing with All the Saints

In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle, S.J.  wrote “Scripture scholars contend that the original language of the Beatitudes should not be rendered as ‘Blessed are the single-hearted’ or ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ or ‘Blessed are those who struggle for justice.’  Greater precision in translation would say, ‘you’re in the right place if  ... you are single-hearted or work for peace.’  The Beatitudes is not spirituality after all.  It’s geography.  It tells us where to stand.  Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about standing in solidarity with them.  If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased.  ‘Be compassionate as God is compassionate,’ means the dismantling of barriers that exclude.”

I have spent a great deal of time and energy over the years “doing my homework” – gathering reliable data and studying scripture so that I could take the “right” stand on issues.  Boyle suggests that striving for justice is less about taking the right stand then it is about standing in the right place – with the outcast, the marginalized and those whose differences frighten us.   How can we stand with the homeless becoming ever more numerous at the head of State St?  How do we stand with those increased numbers becoming increasingly dependent upon food pantries to make it through the month?  How do we stand with our African American children, less than 50% of whom graduate from the Madison schools on time?  How do we stand with those who distrust us?  Boyle reminds all of us that it's easier to let down the barriers and stand with “the other” once we start seeing them as individuals “who are exactly what God had in mind when God made them.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Luke 18: 9-14

Justice Reflection for October 27, 2013
Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Every time I read this parable I laugh out loud because inescapably my first thought is "God, I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee who thinks he is not like the tax collector," and my next thought inevitably is "God, I thank you that am not like those people who think they are not like the Pharisee who thinks he is not . . . ". You see where this is going?  The endless internal jockeying for a morally superior position.  Moral superiority lets us feel we are more worthy than some others.  Moral superiority lets us think we deserve all the benefits we have and they do not -- they can't have been trying hard enough.

Deep down, we know it's not a level playing field.  What might happen if it were leveled, just a little?  The ten-year-old Odyssey Project is finding out.  Disadvantaged people in South Madison can volunteer to spend a year at the Park Street branch of the public library studying a rigorous program in the Humanities through UW-Madison.  At the end of the year, they -- and their families -- are transformed.  A common comment: "I didn't think I was smart enough to understand Shakespeare" or Plato or Beethoven.  Here are a couple of excerpts from a poem written by Odyssey graduate Madison Police Officer Anthony Ward, the father of five, and a UW student majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership:

"I am persuaded to move to prove
That the knowledge I gain will add to the groove.
The groove that is God, and the songs that he sings
Are more than just lyrical but bring miracles that ride on angels' wings.

"My journey has been played in a lot of different keys,
Some major, some minor, all kinds of melodies.
Not Bach, or Beethoven, but inspired by such,
Composed by Plato and Shakespeare, a non-conservative touch.

"My voice, my song, my music, will never be just mine
Because I've learned, heard, and seen for myself
That all I am is because of those who made music before me.

"Can you hear that sweet, sorrowful, happy, sad, inspiring,
Liberating, literate, compassionate, angry song?"

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Luke 17:11-19

Only one of the ten lepers in this story returns to Jesus to give thanks for his healing, and Jesus commends him. Does this mean we should condemn the nine who did not? Was Jesus wasting his time and God’s grace when he healed all ten, with no strings attached? Should he have revoked the healing of the other nine, to teach them (and us) a clear, unambiguous lesson about the importance of showing gratitude?

I believe the answer to all these questions is no. Like other stories from Luke that we have read in recent weeks, this Gospel lesson shows the amazing inclusiveness of Jesus’ love. Instead of shunning lepers or pretending not to see them, Jesus pays attention to them and responds to their needs. He doesn’t ask questions first about their nationality or orthodoxy of belief or personal morality, or demand that they perform acts of devotion afterward. He simply heals them all-- the nine who did not come back to praise God as well as the one who did. Jesus doesn’t limit his loving care to those who seem to deserve it.

The inclusiveness and patience of Jesus’ love makes me wonder if we worry too much about distinguishing “worthy” from “unworthy” recipients of assistance in food pantries, shelters, and welfare programs. Are any of us really worthy of the blessings we have received from God? It’s easy to recognize myself in the nine lepers who didn’t show their gratitude for God’s gifts. And yet He hasn’t given up on me– or on any of us. Can we stop giving up on each other? Can we become so grateful for our own blessings that we can even give thanks for the blessings bestowed on “the undeserving”?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Luke 17: 5-10

6 October  Luke 17:5-10  --  Standing for Justice

I went to see the movie “The Butler” a month ago.  I could identify with the son, Lewis Gaines, as he actively worked for justice by sitting at lunch counters, riding Freedom buses and getting thrown in jail multiple times.
 As I watched the father, Cecil Gaines (the Butler) live his life of invisible service, I began to see a strong connection between faith as mustard seed and the writing about the slave in Luke’s Gospel.  I began to think about the huge leap of faith it requires to serve with no thought of recognition or reward.  How can I work for basic human rights expecting to have no impact that I'll ever see? How can I serve the poor and marginalized with no expectation of being recognized or thanked for my service?  How can I dismiss any thoughts about whether those I am serving are deserving of my service or behaving with appropriate gratitude?  How do I simply see “the other” as real human beings who will reveal God to me?

Maybe justice is about both being Lewis Gaines who expresses and acts in righteous indignation against injustice, AND being Cecil Gaines who found honor and esteem as he served freely without thought of reward, simply “doing what ought to be done.”