Readings for Third Sunday of Advent: IS 35: 1-6A, 10; PS 146: 6-10; JAS 5: 7-10; MT 11: 2-11
If Trump cabinet nominations are any indication, the president-elect will continue pursuing what have long been the GOP’s two main domestic goals. They are eliminating labor unions and cutting social services such as Food Stamps and Medicaid. Even Trump Republicans (led by their groper-in-chief) will do so while at the same time invoking values they call “Christian.”
Today’s liturgy of the word shows that the GOP position flies in the face of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition expressing (as it does) God’s special concern for the poor and oppressed.
More specifically, the readings demonstrate that the anti-poor policies of the Christian right are actually a slap in the face to Jesus himself. That’s because (once again) in today’s selections, the recipients of God’s special concern turn out to be (in Jesus’ words in our gospel reading) not just “the least.” Rather, in their collectivity, they are identified with the very person whom our sisters and brothers on the right aspire to accept as their personal Lord and Savior.
The vehicle for today’s version emphasizing Jesus’ identification with the poor is a riddle. It’s found at the very end of that reading from Matthew. Matthew has Jesus posing it by saying:
- John the Baptist is the greatest person ever born.
- Yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John.
That leaves us with the question: How can this be? How can “the least” be greater than the one identified by Jesus himself not only as the foremost prophet of the Jewish Testament, but the greatest human being who ever lived?
In the context of Matthew’s gospel, the answer is the following:
1. Jesus is the one far greater than John. (As the Baptist admitted in last week’s reading from Matthew, John was not even worthy to loosen the straps on Jesus’ sandals.)
2. But Jesus identified himself with “the least.” Recall that in his parable of the last judgment (Matthew 25), Jesus says, “Whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did to me.”
3. Therefore the “least” as identified with “the greatest” (Jesus) is greater than John and should be treated that way – as Jesus himself.
Riddle solved. The rest of today’s liturgy adds the details as it develops the theme: recognize the least as God’s favorites – as Jesus himself – and treat them as the most important people in the world.
And who are these “least?” According to Isaiah in today’s first reading, they are the blind, deaf, lame, and mute. They are ex-pats living in exile. The psalmist in today’s responsorial, widens the list by adding the oppressed, hungry, imprisoned, and immigrants. He includes single moms (widows) and their children.
In today’s gospel selection, Jesus recapitulates the list. For him “the least” (who are greater than John) include the imprisoned (like John himself sitting on Herod’s death row). They are (once again) the lame, the deaf, the mute, and lepers. They even include the dead who are raised to life by Jesus.
Do we need any more evidence to support the biblical authenticity of what Pope Francis continually references as God’s “preferential option for the poor?”
Does the Christian Right believe the teaching contained in Jesus’ riddle?
Well, maybe not. I mean, here’s another riddle for you: How can Christians oppose labor unions and eliminate Food Stamps and Medicaid, while still calling themselves followers of Jesus?
Sorry: I can’t solve that one.
5 thoughts on “If You Think Jesus Approves of GOP Policies towards the Poor, Here Are Two Riddles for You . . . (Sunday Homily)”
How can we act in ways totally contrary to other beliefs that we hold? Psychologists would call it “splitting” which is holding ideas in non-communicating compartments, so that they can act without awareness of the dissonance with other ideas. Biblically, we could say that the left hand can act without knowledge of the right hand.
Another factor here is that beliefs are much weaker than deeply rooted understandings. Beliefs not based on deep understanding can be treated as disposable when inconvenient. Wisdom is much more than superficial beliefs, and holds firm in spite of circumstances or feelings of discomfort and inconvenience.
Those deep beliefs are hard to implant and sustain. Personally, I find myself constantly surprised by the ease with which I betray in practice beliefs and values I thought deeply rooted. Thanks for your reminder here, Mike
The lack of compassion is the key to the riddle.
Compassion is not an intellectual activity, not simply an acknowledgement of another’s need.
It is the deep experiencing of the other’s need, their pain, from their life experience, their perspective. It is experiencing where the other is so deeply that one is moved — to action.
Those experiencing need, “sleeping hard” as Jesus did, not knowing where or when the next food will be available, don’t have to imagine much to have compassion.
We, who live in more comfort than all but the most wealthy and powerful of the past, have a lot of imagining to do, in order to be moved by compassion to action.
Compassion is an activity. It is one we can practice.
The “preferential option for the poor” is an intellectual guide. Using that guide starts with strengthening our compassion. That can be as easy as a simple daily exercise in compassion.
Here’s one to try.
First, pick someone in need. I do this by asking to be shown the person that would best arouse my compassion today. Then I commit myself to experience that person’s need for at least 60-seconds, as deeply as I can.
Yesterday (probably because I had today’s rally on my mind), I was drawn to a Berea College student attempting to unpack Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, with it’s intricate, powerful web of tension between hope-lost, and hope-refusing-to-allow-rest. All the while the student was concerned about family who could be deported, concerned about bullying from members of the local community, his mind drawn away repeatedly, sometimes just a little, but everything in one is needed to get inside Eliot’s piece. The tiring battle to engage in the present was exhausting. I admit I got drawn in for more than 60 seconds. That’s the idea.
Inspiring, Hank. Thanks so much for relating that experience and its implicit call for all of us to follow suit.
As we’re led. 🙂