Today is Epiphany. I’ve been planning this specific excerpt from Father Clay for today, but I had some doubts about its timeliness this afternoon: the US Capitol has been breached. The Confederate flag was flying there. I believe in the rule of law, regardless of party, and today’s unfolding events are so very disturbing and frightening. I figured no one wants to read about Epiphany right now. My Epiphany message was going to be about the gift of time, and how my family and I prioritize our volunteer efforts.
Then I realized that this homily is still on point. It calls us to use our acts of charity to recognize the basic human dignity of all people – and then to take that further by undoing the systemic issues that lead to people needing charity. So it was a great reflection pushing me to go deeper on the kinds of volunteer activities we choose each month and my responsibility not only to preserve basic human dignity but also to protect our democracy and defend the rule of law.
Voting was one thing, and the small acts of campaigning I pitched in on were a little bit more. Today Mike and I are talking about how we move from volunteerism to activism as we give the gift of time. I’ll keep you posted as our involvement deepens.
Following Jesus: Acts of Charity & Justice
So it’s important that we follow Jesus in prayer, in works of kindness and works of charity, to help those in need. When family people or neighbors are sick, our hands-on helping does something with our spirit and our soul that doesn’t happen otherwise. We aren’t always able to do this, but it is very valuable when we can. Prayer helps us to realize the humanity of every person regardless of their condition. Hands-on contact with people in difficult situations helps us realize that everyone deserves respect.
Jesus did something else too. It’s not only a matter of helping those who have fallen through the cracks, or helping those who are hurt in some way, or those who are hungry. We need to ask other kinds of questions: How come? What is it in our society that leaves so many people hungry? What is that? We need to get to the root of the problem and not just focus on charitable acts.
One of the ways Jesus saw people being put down was the notion of being unclean. … Jesus saw the way the religious society of his time was structured. He thought it was wrong that people were put down, were put on the margins and in the second class, as if they were not as valuable and deserving as other people.
Jesus realized from his experience and deep prayer life with Abba that this was not right, that people who were on the margins were just as important to Abba as those who were putting them down.
So what did Jesus do? He ate with everybody. And when Jesus was eating with everybody, he was doing something very radical. He wasn’t just getting a good meal. Oh, I am sure that he enjoyed it, but what he was really doing was saying, “I eat with those on the margins, the ones that our rules say you are not supposed to eat with or you will become unclean.” The rules said not to eat with those lowly ones, but Jesus said, “I will.”
So what was Jesus doing? He was undermining the structures of his society because he saw that they oppressed people. And that is why he was killed. We have all these fancy notions of why Jesus died on the cross, and there’s a theological basis for extrapolating these notions, but Jesus was nailed to the cross because he challenged the oppressive structures of his time.
That’s how we get into trouble. We don’t get into trouble by feeding the poor. We get into trouble when we say, “Look, there are certain kinds of systems that make people poor.” It’s understandable that when we are in a position of power or a position of privilege, we don’t want to give it up. This doesn’t mean we are evil, just human. …
Can it ever be right? That some of us have caviar and some not a loaf of bread? There is something wrong with that picture. It is clear to me that it is not right, but it is not clear to me just how exactly we should go about changing it. Changing it is extremely difficult and there can be very honest differences in how we try to do that.
As a start, we need to realize that some things are unfair and unjust. We need to find ways, as imperfect as they may be, to provide some remedy. Jesus shows us how to do this. He shows us the need for contact with Abba, for prayer and surrender to Abba. Jesus’ whole life flowed out of that surrender to Abba. He saw people who were sick and lame and he healed them. He wanted to bind up their wounds.
Jesus also saw that the poor deserve to have the Gospel preached to them. In other words, the good news – that you are important, valuable and deserving of respect – is for everybody. Finally, Jesus challenged the structures of his society.
From the homily, “Following Jesus is Hard – and Wonderful” in Surrounded by Love, by Father John Clay, (c) 2005