A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.
Jesus chose to heal the leper in just the way we would expect that he would. We know that Jesus is full of love and that he will always choose to ease human suffering. He casts out demons, he forgives adulterers, he heals the sick, and above all else, he loves. Assuming that we are able, do we choose to help when we are called upon?
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. Last week we witnessed an unspeakable atrocity committed against children, and we are witnessing now the birth of a movement born of the pain of those children who survived the attack. It’s inspiring to see these eloquent young people confront seasoned politicians and lobbyists. These kids are not giving in to despair. They are truly shaming the strong. Their youth and innocent earnestness have a strength that cynical politicians who take money from the NRA will not be able to dismiss. These young survivors of mass murder are messengers of truth whose voices may just break the iron grip that the NRA has had on our lawmakers for years.
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
In every group or community there will be differences of opinion, and that’s not a bad thing. Our having differing views on any given subject isn’t a problem unless we allow our differences to divide us, which it seems is what has happened in our country politically. We’re divided enough now, that there is little room for civil discourse. We’ve become intolerant of our brothers and sisters who’s views differ from our own to the point where we have become separate and antagonistic tribes.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
We might not all be tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness, but we are tempted throughout our lives in one way or another. No matter what the temptations are that we face, or our success rate in resisting them, we can count on two things. We know that through repentance, grace and Jesus Christ’s great mercy, we are forgiven, and we know that at some point we will sin again. I’m not advocating for our thinking of God’s grace as a get out of jail free card. We should, of course, always strive to be the best people we are capable of being, but there has only ever been one man who was completely without sin.
Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment, and do not hide your wisdom. For wisdom becomes known through speech, and education through the words of the tongue. Never speak against the truth, but be ashamed of your ignorance. Do not be ashamed to confess your sins, and do not try to stop the current of a river. Do not subject yourself to a fool, or show partiality to a ruler. Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will fight for you.
At this point if we don’t speak out against the NRA and our national obsession with guns, then we can consider ourselves complicit in the deaths of all future victims of mass shootings. This is the proper moment. It’s time that we realize that not matter how difficult it may be, we need to wrest control of our lives and deaths from the gun lobby and the politicians who do their bidding. It’s time that we admit that we have failed to protect our children and ourselves from gun violence, and move on to the next step. It’s time to dry our tears and lose our tempers. We can no longer sit silently, lamenting the fact that our legislators won’t act on our behalf. We need to demand that they act. The only thing more powerful than the gun lobby is an angry and active electorate.
The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? “As I live,” says the Lord God, “this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways,” says the Lord God. “Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,” says the Lord God. “Turn, then, and live.”
In the wake of yet another mass murder of children, we can learn from the prophet Ezekiel. We as a nation have not given up idolatry, we continue to worship guns. We have sanctified our right to gun ownership, and by so doing we have turned our children into sacrificial offerings. It is not God’s way that is unfair, it is ours. We must choose to turn away from this modern day Baal. One of the first lessons we are taught in scripture is that God does not want human sacrifice. God stayed the hand of Abraham when Isaac was on the alter, but we do not stay our own hands when our children are the sacrifice. No, prayers are not enough. We must act.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Jesus sent his disciples out to heal the sick and to bring peace to the people who welcomed them. We are now living in a nation that is sick and it’s going to be up to us to heal her. Our country is suffering from an epidemic of gun violence which is enabled in part by the greed of our politicians who take large amounts of money from the NRA. Like the pairs of disciples who went out into the towns and villages of Palestine, we need to go out and campaign for political candidates who are committed to gun control. We cannot continue to tolerate legislators who’s allegiance is to the NRA and not to the people whom they represent.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Is there any benefit to fasting if we don’t also strive to help others? What good is self denial if we aren’t giving what we have denied ourselves to a person in need? Maybe our fast can take the form of pushing ourselves to do more speaking out against social injustice and giving what we can to organizations which provide aid to those who are less fortunate. Maybe our fast can mean performing some sort of service which is out of our comfort zone. Whatever we decide to do to make the season of Lent meaningful, let’s make it something positive and beneficial for our world as well as ourselves.
1. Give the King your justice, O God, *and your righteousness to the King’s Son;
2. That he may rule your people righteously *and the poor with justice;
3. That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *and the little hills bring righteousness.
4. He shall defend the needy among the people; *he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.
5. He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *from one generation to another.
6. He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *like showers that water the earth.
7. In his time shall the righteous flourish; *there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.
10. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall pay tribute, *and the kings of Arabia and Saba offer gifts.
11. All kings shall bow down before him,*and all the nations do him service.
12. For he shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, *and the oppressed who has no helper.
13. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; *he shall preserve the lives of the needy.
14. He shall redeem their lives from oppression and violence, *and dear shall their blood be in his sight.
At this point it seems that all we can do is pray for God to Give our president a true sense of justice and righteousness, at least until he and his cadre of evil jesters can be brought to justice for the crimes which they have committed. Our president and the speaker of the house call themselves people of faith, but whatever faith it is to which they devote themselves, it is a faith which is not recognizable as one which springs from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Perhaps it is their faith in capitalism which drives their callous agenda. Their’s is a capitalism which has no mercy. It is a capitalism devoid of humanity and devoid of common sense. Ultimately it is a capitalism which is self destructive on it’s face, because it redistributes wealth to the advantage of the wealthy, thereby rendering it impossible for anyone other than the wealthy to spend money which is what keeps an economy going. Their faith has no inclination to help the poor and the needy. Their faith doesn’t seek to deliver the oppressed who have no helper, in fact, their faith apparently commands them to become the oppressor. Their’s is a bully faith which only seeks to protect the powerful from the powerless and and to feed the wealthy food from the tables of the poor.
This past Chanukah I became especially mindful of European Jews of the 1930s. A photograph reignited a question I’ve had ever since I was a child.
Throughout my life I’ve wondered why more European Jews who had the means to leave didn’t. I’ve wondered why they stayed when all the signs were there that their way of life, and indeed their lives were in danger. I’ve wondered why they stayed and endured the humiliations and hardships which were imposed upon them with the adoption of the of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws. I’ve wondered why they stayed even after Kristalnacht. I’ve wondered why my father’s family stayed even when my grandfather travelled to Europe in an effort to bring them to the US. I’m beginning to realize just how difficult it must have been to make the decision to leave. When is the right time to leave everything we know to live as refugees? What has to happen before we get to that point? Is it witnessing torch bearing Nazi’s marching through the streets of American cities chanting “Jews will not replace us?” We’ve already witnessed that, and yet, here we are. We’re still here uncomfortably trying to ignore the fact that there are many Americans who would love to be rid of their Jewish fellow citizens, and there are masses of Americans who would not lift a finger to help their Jewish neighbors should they be attacked by mobs or have their houses set ablaze. I wonder when, if ever, did these Jews of the 1930s no longer feel that they belonged in the countries in which they were born and raised and where their ancestors lived and died before them. When does one no longer feel at home? Is it the first time one is spit upon, or the second? What does it take to make one choose to leave rather than stay? Does it take witnessing the brutalization of others like us? We’ve seen an increase in hate motivated attacks, and yet here we are. When should we lose hope and flee? Is it when our government becomes complicit with hate groups? Our president is certainly complicit, he has failed to condemn white supremacists, and yet here we are. Do we wait to leave until we’ve marched in the streets and been fired upon by our own government’s soldiers or police? When is the right time to leave, and how will we know when it has arrived? If we leave are we betraying our country? Has our country betrayed us? Do we become somehow complicit if we don’t stand our ground and fight? Are we all obliged to become heroes, or do some of us get to leave without being judged cowards? I’m not young. I’m not trained in combat. I have never shot a gun. Should I be seeking out training? Do I need to learn to use weapons and arm myself? I understand that many people reading this, especially people who were not brought up in Jewish households, will think that I’m being melodramatic, or that I have some type of severe, neurotic fear, syndrome. For those of us who grew up hearing stories about relatives who perished at the hands of the Nazis or their allies, I may not seem quite as crazy for thinking about fight or flight as it pertains to us here and now. The truth is I still feel like this country is my home, but I am deeply concerned about what is happening here. I am appalled that condemning white supremacists has somehow become optional. I am disgusted that there is not more outrage over almost everything our president says or does, from his denial of climate science to his undermining of the judiciary. He is quietly stacking the courts with right wing extremists, even as he pursues policies, the constitutionality of which is questionable. There is no question in my mind that he is doing terrible damage to our country and there is no question in my mind that the Republicans in the congress and the senate are complicit in all of it. My two big questions are, when will it be too late to stop the destruction of our democracy, and for those of us who fit into categories of people likely to be targeted, when will it be too late to get out?
I realize that this is a departure from my usual mediations. I have not written this in response to a biblical passage. I have not brought up Jesus and how we are, or aren’t following his directives or commandments. I wrote this in response to a photograph which brought up a lot for me as an ethnic Jew and as a gay man, both of which were groups targeted for destruction by the Nazis.