Neither social justice nor social equity are the ultimate result that the lord intended. Such social/cultural disparities were never the subject of Jesus’ teaching. Many, many ‘good’ people are concerned about their neighbor, whether that is because of guilt, humanism, altruism or simply because of the Judea/Christian cultural heritage in which they were raised. But ultimately their concerns and their charity may well be misplaced.
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By Steve Hall
Today’s readings offer two incidents/blessings/miracles which could hardly be called inconsequential. The first, of course, concerns Abram’s wife, who, in her later years, is promised a son. The assertion provokes a skeptical laugh from the withered Sarah, and probably some eye-rolling on the part of Abraham. Nevertheless, she has a son.
The second incident comes two thousand year later when a Roman Centurion seeks out Jesus for the healing of his servant. But when Jesus agrees to come, the centurion says that the journey is unnecessary, both because the centurion himself is unworthy and because Jesus has the authority to heal even if miles away.
Both stories are remarkable. Each, in its own way, reveals the marvelous power of God — the first with its bonding of God with new life, the second through its consideration of untimely death. Both are matters worthy of our reflection. But what came to mind were orphans and widows.
The protection of orphans and widows first comes up in the twenty-second chapter of Exodus. Subsequently they will be joined in Scripture by sojourners and the poor; and, for centuries, God’s people were directed to protect and provided for all four groups. In fact, it was a primary theme of the prophets. Correspondingly, the people were not just told what to do, they were admonished and chastised for what they had failed to do.
Now this seems like an inconsequential matter, particularly when compared to the events described in today’s readings. What’s the big deal? Why dwell on these people? Why does their care remain a constant refrain among those who would speak in the name of the Lord? We can and do effectively ignore these groups knowing that our culture, our society and our government have all established assistance programs to care for them. Isn’t that enough?
Enough or not, such ‘charitable’ programs miss the intent of the Lords concerns. The programs separate us from the critical aspects of what is going on and what is needed. They give us a buffer between the need and the work that addresses the need. Neither social justice nor social equity are the ultimate result that the lord intended. Such social/cultural disparities were never the subject of Jesus’ teaching. Many, many ‘good’ people are concerned about their neighbor, whether that is because of guilt, humanism, altruism or simply because of the Judea/Christian cultural heritage in which they were raised; so, they support the programs and encourage new ones. But ultimately their concerns and their charity may well be misplaced.
The problem can be better understood if we ask ourselves: “From where does the ‘fruit’ of our charity originate?”
God desires us to be like him — to choose to be like him. He may bless us with those things that only he can do — giving Sarah a son, giving life to the afflicted — but we can make his presence known through works of love, mercy and compassion especially those works directed towards people who have nothing to return. The Lord’s main desire is not that we show care and concern, nor is it that others not suffer, particularly unnecessarily, neither is it that we feel ‘good’ about ourselves. Our God is love, mercy and compassion and his desire is that we, through union with his Son, should become fully united to him.