Monday of the First Week of Lent
LV 19:1-2, 11-18/MT 25:31-46
You can watch a lot of movies on a trans-Pacific flight, but your selection is limited. That is how I came to watch the 2009 movie Forever Strong. The vain (but talented), spoiled, rich-kid rugby player lands in juvenile detention after a DUI offense. He eventually joins (not altogether willingly) a local rugby team—sort of a “rugby-release” program. The team has a lot of specific rules for team-member behavior. After confessing his rules-infraction to the head coach, the player asks why they have all these rules. The coach answers “We only have one real rule – don’t do anything that would embarrass you, the team, or your family.”
That explanation is a simplified and secularized (but still useful) version of what we read today. The first reading provides a series of rules proscribing different types of antisocial behavior, and the second reading encourages certain socially beneficial behavior. In both readings, we are asked to be conscious of—and act well toward—those who are in a position of relative weakness. In the first reading we are told not to withhold wages from day laborers—I don’t know what labor markets were like in biblical Israel, but it’s a safe bet that day laborers were economically vulnerable. In the second reading, we are told to clothe the naked and to visit the sick or imprisoned—again, clearly vulnerable people.
Although these readings thus direct us toward social justice, they are just as concerned with our behavior’s effects on ourselves. After all, what difference does it make if we “curse the deaf”? Is the deaf person even going to hear the curse, and if not, does our deed have any effect on the deaf person? When we conform our behavior to the rules in today’s readings, we are recognizing and fostering human dignity both in the other person and in ourselves. And that is why the psalmist says “Let the words of my mouth [that is, our deeds] and the thought of my heart [that is, our inner selves] find favor before you, O Lord.” Indeed, as the first reading (like Forever Strong, but more deeply) tells us, we have only one real rule: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Former adjunct professor at the Law School and guest lecturer for Opus College of Business.
He is a partner in the Minneapolis office of Dorsey & Whitney LLP.