Monday of the First Week of Lent
Love your neighbor as yourself
Very familiar texts: the “love your neighbor as yourself” passage from the “Holiness Code” (Leviticus 17-26), which Jesus will give his own twist to; and the sheep and the goats passage from Matthew 25. Timely indeed. I will start with Leviticus, where the relentless drum roll of “You shalls” and “You shall nots” each end with the refrain, “I am the LORD.” What caught my eye was 19:18: “You shall not cherish any grudge against your fellow countrymen,” or, in the Revised Standard Version, “against the sons of your people.” Sometimes homilists will walk around the “ethnic” presumption of those words, which sit uneasily with our expectation of a universal message. Without touching the live wire of the doctrine of Election, I would like to suggest that they have immediate meaning to Americans – not because we think we are, in Lincoln’s phrase, “God’s almost chosen people,” but because of what “election” more commonly means in the U.S. After the most bitter presidential election in memory, many of us have struggled not to hold a grudge against our fellow countrymen and women. If November 8 taught us anything, it showed how deeply divided we are, with (I fear) more and more Americans unwilling to accept that other Americans really belong here. I worry about erosion in bedrock acceptance of the legitimacy of our government. Politics is on the way to becoming worldview (religion) competition, with true religions and false religions and no quarter given.
Not to sound a relativist note here. One position is not as good as another. If we wonder where our choices lie, Jesus presents them in even starker fashion than Leviticus. In Matthew 25’s division of the sheep (righteous) and goats (damned), the righteous don’t know they are righteous. But their deeds speak for themselves. And when we read the refrain, “a stranger, and you welcomed me,” that puts the burden of proof on those who are more interested in whom we can shun and ignore than in whom we can welcome, feed, and clothe. Pope Francis’ lament over the “globalization of indifference” still rings in our ears years after he uttered it on Lampedusa.
Dr. Michael Hollerich