First rule, when you’re in a hole that you’re trying to get out of: Stop. Digging.
Sadly, the events out of Charlottesville this last week have the country reeling. White supremacists fomenting hate and those opposing them shouting rage. A white supremacist drives his car into a crowd of protestors, killing one. A President who is slow to differentiate between fascistic hatred and the rageful indignation of those opposing such hatred. (As of this writing, the President has just come out and condemned far right violence.) Many people are opining and many pulpits were ringing yesterday.
My 2 cents is that most of the yelling on the right and the left is misguided, and our readings for this week suggest our country and our world largely miss what our Lord would have us see. For instance, from the belly of the fish, Jonah does two things. First, he RECOGNIZES he’s in the belly of the fish, and that it’s not where he would prefer to reside! There is nothing redeeming – for him, or for anyone, for that matter – being where he is. Likewise, there is nothing redeeming for anyone coming out of Charlottesville for anybody in this mess. Don’t dig toward the right OR the left to get out of this hole. Just stop digging.
Second, Jonah doesn’t call upon the President, the Republicans or Democrats, the National Guard, or any other human person or group to solve this problem. He calls upon the Lord, the only One who has ever dependably saved him no matter what. He does this, he says, because “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope for steadfast love.” Notice what he desires: “steadfast love,’ not might, self-righteousness, the ability to cast down in the strength of your own arms or argument. He seeks Love, a love not only promised to him, but to everyone. (Look at what the Apostle Paul wishes for in the Epistle: “that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers…”. How many of us, I wonder, would be willing to cut ourselves off from salvation for the sake of those who disagree with us? Would we be willing to sacrifice ourselves for a “Fascist” or a “Libtard”?) Psalm 29 speaks only of the Lord’s glory and power, only HIS ability to guide and shape humanity’s promise, and not our own. When we place our trust only in Him, and not our own strengths and abilities, only then do we begin ascending out of our hole.
“Now wait a minute…easier said than done! We still have to discern and chose the right path! How are we going to do that when we’re sinners and make bad choices?” Ah, yes, fair question. (One of the cool things about a blog is you get to have these conversations with yourself for the whole world to see!) But we are broken, fallible and capable of being led astray, by others OR ourselves. How DO we figure out the right way? Our Gospel passage points us in that direction. In it, some of the Apostles are in a boat far from shore in a storm; at the height of the storm, Jesus comes, walking on water, toward them. They fear; they proclaim Him to be a ghost. He responds “It is I; do not be afraid.” So, up to this point, the Apostles could be any humans we know; they could be us. Life throws challenges, even threats at them. And they respond with fear. They cannot even believe their own eyes that the man they call Christ and Savior, coming toward them, is actually Him. Jesus has to remind them of who He is, and He tells them, as He’s done so often before, don’t give into fear.
Even when He identifies Himself, Peter still doubts – he orders Jesus to order him out of the boat to come to Him! Yet Jesus acquiesces, and Peter for a short time walks on water. It is only when He doubts that he sinks, only for Jesus to pull him up again.
What does this say? Fear obviously blinds them to His identity. He shows himself plainly, and for a short moment the impossible happens because Peter casts aside fear and doubt. Only when he returns to fear and doubt does Jesus save him, rather than he saving himself.
Fear causes doubt, and doubt can stoke fear. When we forget that we are called to bear one another’s burdens so that we fulfill the laws of Christ (Galatians 6:2), fear and doubt can split us asunder from one another. It is when we remember we are called to understand and support each other, and when we actually try to do so, that we cease fearing someone other than ourselves. And it has to start with us. Have you sincerely prayed for that “fascist”, or for that “libtard?” Have you asked to have your own fear, doubt, hate, judgment softened by God’s grace?
We have to recognize that we dig our own holes when we judge others’ blindness and failures when they dig their own. It is only when we all stop digging that we can help each other out of our earthy prisons.
Reading the news has become pretty depressing. I’m a news junky, always have been; I could have multiple news sources opened in several windows on my computer during the day, and I’d get events happening in real time and know the details almost immediately. Knowing public events was always an interest and I thought I was doing some civic duty by knowing what was happening around me.
No more, I’m afraid. (Well, not as much, actually…..)
It’s not only that terrible things seem to be happening in our country, but that people are so, so …. horrible, to each other. And it’s been getting like this for a long time. The idea that we should see one another as brothers and sisters, that we should work toward common goals for all our benefit? No more, I’m afraid. It seems we are all encouraged to see one another as potential enemies and we need to defend ourselves by vilifying others.
What does it mean to be on the “inside” or the “outside?” We all know what I’m talking about: each of us has experienced being excluded from particular groups or identities, and that’s a part of life. I’m not a veteran, for example, and I never will be. And I will try to honor those who are different from me in that way, because they did something protective for me and those I love, and they are deserving of honor for that act. But how are we supposed to think and act when others are different from us in less desirable ways? Are we supposed to build ourselves up at their expense? Judge them? Demean them? Create advantages for ourselves at their expense?
Our readings this week address these very questions. Isaiah proclaims that we are to “DO” righteousness. Not think about it, debate it, muse about its consequences over a cup of coffee. Do. It. And why? Because those who may be different from us need it as much as we do. The foreigner among us worries his separation from his own will endanger him. The eunuch worries he cannot leave something of value behind him. But the LORD will protect everyone who keeps His commandments, including those who are different from us. “The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” The Lord, apparently, makes no distinction between those on the inside or outside, so long as they wish to serve Him.
Jesus, in our passage from Matthew, seeming first rejects the Canaanite woman as undeserving of His Father’s mercy. And the disciples are perfectly fine with that; send her away, they say – she’s bothering us, and because she’s not one of us, she isn’t deserving. Even Jesus says to her “It is not right to take children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Notice, here, that Jesus does support the notion of differences among peoples, and that some differences may be worse than others. Acknowledging that, even witnessing to that, is appropriate. But notice what the Canaanite woman states: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” In other words, you can be “other” and still see and want the benefits of what others have. And when that’s the case, how should we respond? When it’s for giving glory back to God, we need to embrace it. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” Jesus, unlike the disciples, throws the doors open to someone who is entirely different from them, when it’s for the right reasons. Reasons that have to do with doing God’s work in the world – not with whether someone is different from ourselves.
When we look at the bitterness and anger in our country and world today, the question needing first consideration is: are our desires and efforts, and the desires and efforts of all those around us, first about doing God’s work? If they are, then we need to ask ourselves: How do we support those desires and efforts? I’d suggest that asking those two questions first before all others will improve discourse and interactions among all of us. And if that process starts with us, all the better. Being less concerned about those who differ from me, and more concerned about bringing God’s Kingdom to us all, would probably have better outcomes for each of us. And wouldn’t it be nice to see that in the news?