In this New Year, I want to share some thoughts concerning how we can all create a New Beginning. In Matthew 9:10 we read: “And as He (Jesus) sat at dinner in the house many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with Him and His Disciples.” What a strange text this is. How could those who were marginalized and minimalized by the society of First Century A.D. think, or believe, that they could enter the same house as Jesus and eat with Him? These where people deemed unworthy and untouchable by both the sacred and secular society of their day. Yet, He ate with them (which in that ancient culture meant that He accepted them as part of the family or community). Jesus, obviously, saw everyone as “being created in The Imagio Dei” (“The Image and Likeness of God”). He saw everyone as having worth and dignity before God. He proclaimed that we possess these attributes not because of who we are, or what we do, but rather because of Who God is: Our Divine Parent and the One in Whose “demut” and “selem” (Hebrew Words in Genesis for “Image” and “Resemblance”) we were created.
When we defame, demean, devaluate, dehumanize,demonize, and discriminate against any human being we denigrate God’s “Image” and “Likeness” in them and, ultimately, in ourselves. Until we begin to see this truth, and begin living it out in our words and actions, we will continue to perpetrate all the ugliness and ungodliness we deplore (or say we do) in the world. We who count ourselves among the Faith Communities must also take some blame for creating and perpetuating such fertile soil for these negative attitudes and actions to flourish. We do this when we see only ourselves and our belief systems and our interpretations of the sacred text (scriptures) as the only valid and viable vehicles of truth. We do this when we become exclusive rather than inclusive. We do this when some are not allowed access to the “Table of Justice, Equality, Mercy and Privilege.” We do this when the same ‘Human and Civil Rights” we desire for ourselves are denied to those we deem different.
Let us be honest and introspective. Could it be that we need to assume some guilt in perpertrating and perpetuating the violence, division, hatred and ugliness we say we deplore and condemn? Marginalizing and minimalizing others is not “The Path of Jesus.” It is contrary to everything He preached and practiced. To say that some people are less worthy in God’s estimation and esteem (and therefore in ours as well) is to preach and practice an exclusivity which Jesus never advocated or advanced. Exclusiveness is the path of destruction and dehumanization. Inclusiveness is the path of healing, peace, joy and community.
I am proud to belong to a denomination (United Church of Christ) which believes that we must strive to interpret our sacred texts in the light of years of scholarship (both sacred and secular). A denomination which endeavors to live out the spirit and teachings of Jesus, not in the restrictive context of an ancient world view, but rather in the releasing and resurrecting context of a modern and enlightened world view.
Many years ago, Abraham Maslow (The Psychiatrist) stated a profound truth. He said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, then you tend to approach everything as a nail.” Sacred Texts are too valuable and volatile to continue to interpret them with the “Hammer of “Literal and Limited Interpretative Devices” rather than viewing them through the lens of thousands of years of scholarship.
Jesus expressed and extended unconditional love to everyone. The Greek Word is “Agape.” It is a verb of action and not of feeling. It means to “will the best for others and to do all we can to see that it happens for them” (sounds like “The Golden Rule” doesn’t it?) A Truth that is expressed within every Faith Journey today. It is caring, compassion, seeking justice and equality for our brothers and sisters.
Unless we cultivate these attitudes, and the actions which derive their foundation from them, we will continue to foster a climate of exclusiveness rather than inclusiveness. We will continue to view some as having less value and dignity than others. We will continue to walk down a road which “dead ends” in the discriminatory and detestable attitudes and actions that are now defining our society. In the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will, surely, perish together as fools.”