Lectionary passages and local politics
Writing with a not-so-colonized mind
By Antonio “Tony” Aja
Theologian Karl Barth is quoted as saying that preachers need to have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Of course, the reason is that we need to be attentive to what is happening in our communities and the world so that we can encourage and exhort our flocks to be catalysts for transformation with and by the gospel principles of love, compassion and justice for all.
Well, I don’t read the printed newspaper per se these days, but I watch TV and read all kinds of news websites from several countries and social media that keep me informed about current events.
And current events, from my perspective – and I believe from the perspective of the gospel as well – are not very good.
Thus I have been struggling every week since before the election to bring words of hope and solace to my congregation in light of the political changes.
This is actually somewhat paradoxical because lately texts from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) have been exactly what we need as preachers to address the political issues currently affecting us and our communities in this nation and the world.
On the other hand, when we preachers do that, sometimes we are accused of being too political.
“Preach the gospel,’’ I’ve been told – ‘’and stay away from politics.’’
Actually, these sentiments from parishioners are quite common. I came across a recent study by the Barna Group which found that only eight percent of adults say they are interested in hearing pastors’ views on issues such as same-sex marriage, LGBT rights, abortion, guns, tax policy, climate change, drug policy, immigration or religious freedom, etc.
And that supports one of the study’s biggest findings, said Barna President David Kinnaman during a webcast about the study: “There is a huge amount of skepticism and indifference to today’s faith leaders.”
I am very thankful, however, that I pastor a congregation that can think and feel and love and act upon their convictions as Christians. I value their support and even more the way they work toward the well-being of this community and others throughout the world with their resources and personal involvement.
So, speaking of politics, in today’s RCL lesson (January 29, 2017), the prophet Micah writes his forceful indictments of Israel as a nation because they have failed to follow the demands of the Covenant with God to develop a just society.
He refers to the Covenant established through Moses after the liberation of Israel from slavery, which requires Israel to maintain justice precisely because it experienced such terrible injustice in Egypt. God often has to remind Israel: “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Things aren’t going well for Israel so they wonder:
“With what shall I come before the LORD,
and bow myself before God on high?”
So the people tried to convince God to stop the upcoming crisis and possible destruction of their city by sacrificing ‘’things’’ to God.
The prophet then asks a very pertinent question: “What does the Lord require of you?’’ He then answers his own question:
“Do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’’
All the material offerings from the people, even child sacrifice mind you, are rejected by God in favor of qualities of character and behavior that were lacking in Israel at that time.
So now I ask, do we see any parallels between what was going on today in our own country with what transpired in Israel?
I do. For example, to name a few, the new administration
- wants to build a wall between us and Mexico, thus creating a physical, cultural an economical chasm between the two nations and peoples;
- develop a ‘’comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens,’’ and thus making them ‘’removable aliens;’’
- has reduced funding to international organizations working with the poor, women and children;
- wants to let expire the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which provides protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived here as children;
- and has banned refugees from coming into the U.S., especially those from certain Muslim countries.
As a former refugee, I cringe at that last one…
But it’s not just the Old Testament reading that speaks to what is happening in our world today. The Beatitudes are the gospel reading.
In this Scripture, the crowds have been following Jesus and they are increasing. But he is not concerned with the size of the crowds. There were no photos at that time to help count how many people were there. But I can assure it was one of the biggest crowds ever, believe me! (Pun totally intended.)
Jesus is more concerned with quality than quantity. He starts teaching the principles of God’s realm and what to be a disciple of Christ is all about.
Blessings from God – or ‘’happiness’’ which is another translation from the Greek word – comes not with lots of money or boasting about building tall buildings – or doing whatever it takes to keep it in the black or closing the deal.
Instead, God will bless or make happy those who are poor in spirit – or just ‘’the poor’’ according to Luke – and meek in the manner they treat others and hungry for justice instead of power.
Those who suffer persecution and ridicule for the sake of Jesus will also be blessed and happy.
Blessed are also the peacemakers, those who would rather engage in dialog and reconciliation.
Now for the hard part. The Beatitudes is not something abstract or esoteric for our reading pleasure. These promises are not only for the ‘’by and by,’’ but for the now and today.
In my humble estimation they are a very important part of a ‘’Christian’s Constitution‘’ along with the other teachings of Jesus.
Therefore, how ‘’political’’ do we want to get?
How blessed are we?
Rev. Antonio (Tony) Aja currently serves as pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at McCormick Theological Seminary. A former refugee from Cuba, Tony has developed new ministries with refugees and immigrants in Florida and Kentucky. He has been a missionary, pastor, executive director of an ecumenical ministry, and staff at the PC(USA) headquarters.