I continue my posts focused on Lent by another reflection on two confessions from the Litany of Penance. (If you are not aware of what I am talking about, go to the post "Why I Needed Wine at 7:30 This Morning" from March 9th).
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Cyber Church of the Resurrected Lord, I come to you to stand before you and with you to express this prayer:
"Accept our repentance, Lord, for the wrongs we have done:
for our blindness to human need and suffering, and our
indifference to injustice and cruelty,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
"For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us,
Accept our repentance, Lord"
Even though I am not an adherent to the theories of reincarnation (resurrection just inspires a deeper hope), I do think that there are certain people from Scripture whose lives and stories keep on being lived over and over and over, generation after generation, in all kinds of languages and cultures, stretching out over all periods of history and littering the mountains, streets, and fields of every country.
One such life narrative that gets reincarnated in my own context and in my own life is the story about the powerful, affluent, influential, and deeply religious man who was at the pinnacle of his life. He came to Jesus to discover what he needed for assurance that he would possess eternal life. Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor. Then he could follow Jesus. The man left sad. His wealth, prestige, power were too great a price to pay.
We often focus on the wealth - very rich-people of us to do that! We often talk about how the money had become hid idol. We often talk about how this command to get rid of all our wealth is not for all of us - only for those whose wealth is controlling them.
We rarely focus on the part of the story that I think matters more than his wealth. What did Jesus tell him to do with it?
Give it to the poor.
I don't think that was meant to be a flippant "give it to Goodwill." "Give it to the poor" was not Jesus way of saying, "Your wealth is an idol to you so for your own benefit you need to clean the clutter out of your heart so that you can worship more freely. Oh, and I guess since you are getting rid of it all anyway, why not drop it off at the local charity house."
There is too much evidence in the way Jesus lived, the people He spent time with, and the way the first Christians lived life (not to mention to copious amounts of OT regulations and prophetic words to call us to justice, mercy, and helping the poor) to think that this was a throw away concern.
Jesus tells this man that if he wants to follow along and be His disciple, then all that wealth, all his talent, all his influence, all his time and attention is going to dedicated to Jesus' mission of "preaching good news to the poor, freedom for the captives, release for the oppressed" (see Luke 4).
The man had plenty of reasons why he was simply unable to dedicate Himself to this special charitable cause of Jesus.
1) I have a full-time job that is more than a 9-5 thing
(as a MINISTER I might add - I should get a few oohs and ahs at how special that is)
2) I have two small children to raise
(and I am doing a good job of being affectionate, consistent in discipline, and giving quality time to them - again oohs, ahs)
3) I am a student in a doctoral program
(which is at a THEOLOGICAL seminary... again...)
4) I am a responsible (cough, cough) home owner with manly chores to take care, which includes a couple vehicles that I maintain to save my family money
(I think applause is now necessary now)
So, Jesus, I appreciate the offer to follow you and everything, but, as you can see, I am quite consumed with other godly, successful, respectable efforts right now. So, you go ahead and go take care of the poor. I am taking care of a family, of a church, of my theological texts, etc.
I am blind to human need and suffering: No one that I am close to and spend time with on a regular basis is dealing with serious need. Not much like Jesus, huh?
I am indifferent to injustice and cruelty. For most of my life I have cared very little about minorities, racism, criminal (in)justice, immigration, war, slavery, refugees, or any group of people facing violations of human dignity and rights. Again, doesn't sound much like Jesus, huh?
And this blindness, indifference, and callousness is not the result of some kind of evil intention to harm anyone. It is has been cultivated by my concern to build my own successful, safe, educated, happy, spiritual existence.
I have been doing a lot of reading lately on South Africa and theories on how societies should respond following seasons of intense civil conflict where human rights have been violated. In South Africa, as many are aware, there way of dealing with the injustice of the past was to create a Truth Commission where victims and perpetrators were invited to tell the truth formally and for public hearing and record about what happened during apartheid, the legal system of segregation and human rights denial.
So that the country could move out of civil conflict, avoid war and destruction, and move forward as one united country into a new future, they offered amnesty hearings. If you were a perpetrator of human rights violations under the old regime, were willing to tell the full truth, and were able to show that it was politically motivated, you would be granted amnesty. Creating peace for the future rather than retribution over the past was their goal.
There were applications that had to filled out and submitted to get a hearing before the Amnesty Committee. One of the most striking applications that was turned in was a group of young friends that wrote on their application that they were filing for... get this...
Amnesty for Apathy
Apathy was their violation of human rights for which they were seeking national forgiveness.
They wanted to confess that they stood by while all this took place and did nothing. They did nothing to harm black South Africans. But they also did nothing to stop the white South African government, soldiers, police, or citizens from harming them. They also did nothing to help those who had been harmed. They just went about their lives as good, upstanding citizens working jobs, caring for families, going to church, mowing their lawns, etc. (South Africa is a very Christian country, especially the whites the created and preserved the system of apartheid - specifically of the Dutch Reformed tradition.)
Amnesty for Apathy
You see in EVERY society their are perpetrators and victims of some form of injustice, inequality, or violation of human rights. We often think that those are the only two groups involved and the court systems are created to deal with that.
There is ALWAYS another group, however. It is the bystanders, sometimes called the beneficiaries of the system. The bystanders/beneficiaries did not create the system and are not directly harming anyone. They just go about life.
The question, THE question is whether or not they are innocent bystanders. Using the word "beneficiary" reveals my own thoughts about this. I love Merton's "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander." It picks at this notion that because we are simply bystanders that we are not responsible.
If we are not responsible...
then who is?
Whose job was it to stop Hitler? Whose job was it in the US to provide and protect the rights of woman as full citizens? Whose job was it to stop FDR from building the internment camps in WWII? Whose job was it to stop Jim Crow laws? Whose job is it now to ensure the human rights of immigrants? Whose job is it to see that the poor and vulnerable are taken care of in our society?
There is not one simple answer to any of those questions.
One component of each answer, though, has to be the church. You and me and anyone else who claims the name of Jesus, the Liberator of mankind.
Any attempt to turn the salvation of Jesus into some spiritualized, personalized pardon for my own sins and not ALSO about His call to redeem the world through the SALT and LIGHT of His people is anathema. Spend some time with Isaiah, with Amos, with Jesus, and with the church in Acts and ask yourself if God is concerned about human suffering.
I have blind for far too long. I need Jesus to spit in my eyes. I cannot continue to worship politely, work hard, love my family, study theology, take care of my home, and slip peacefully into my bed every night.
Accept my repentance, Lord. Spit on my eyes. Cure my blindness. Teach me how to follow you.