When this writer was growing up he would often travel the 318 some odd miles from Levittown, PA to Vandgergrift, in the same state. When we would arrive, we would visit Aunt Bess, Uncle Dean, Margie, Sherlie, Robin and across the street, Aunt Betty, Uncle Sai, Debbie, Diane, Doris, and Danny. The hike across the street and up the hill on Uncle Sai’s property was well worth the trip. Aunt Betty made the best chicken. The spices were just right, not too hot, and not too bland.
Today, for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Father Matthew related a similar story of his growing up, from the standpoint of the chickens Aunt Betty and Uncle Sai were raising in their back yard, as my grandfather, Uncle Sai’s dad raised before him. Every Sunday, and every time we came to visit, Uncle Sai would go into the backyard, grab one of the chickens, and snap its neck. As Father Matthew related, the other chickens would understand the horror of losing one of their own. After some time, they would then go about eating their chicken feed. After all, Aunt Betty and Uncle Sai did take good care of them, only buying the best chickenfeed, building the best roosts, and the like. It is the same in our world.
Every once in a while we do lose one of our own, whether it be Rodney King, Yoshihiro Hattori, Timothy Thomas, Lt. William Calley and My Lai, the students at UC Davis, the students at Kent State University, those killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the Bangladesh factory collapse, the Hamlet fire, Katrina, the Deep Water Horizon, where ten died, and many, many more. Sadly, we sometimes lose one of our own who is unarmed at the hands of establishment folk, who get away with it. We see this in the case of the first three cases above and in the case of Travyon Martin. Father Matthew asked why we choose to go back to eating our chicken feed. It is a good question.
Sometimes, we find the system just too big and powerful to take on. That may be one of the reasons the Pharisees and the Sadducees in our Gospel reading, the story of the scholar of the law, choose not to confront Imperial Rome. Those of us in the American Middle Class find it easier to live our middle-class lifestyle than to confront injustice when we see it. It was Gertrude this week, not me, why bother. We forget that the generous people who give us those nice jobs this week, might just be fattening us up for next week.
There is another, more important reason, that brings us to the first reading for this Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary time. That is the importance of Dogma, Doctrine, in Hebrew, Halakha, or walk, Torah or teaching. It is the code, written and unwritten by which we live our lives, sometimes conservative, and sometimes liberal. We love to live by this, and not what we see around us. Our first reading tells us:
This Mitzvah which I give you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.
The scholar tries to make excuses for what he is doing. He tries to hide behind the very legal code written to protect us, to protect himself what is right and wrong. Jewish tradition told the young scholar that he was not to go next to a corps. The priests and the levites were therefore liturgically correct in not approaching the man on the road. Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Jesus confronts the young scholar using the parable. Dogma may be in his head, but the truth is in his heart, and Jesus is about to put it in his mouth.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. The command, the Mitzvah, is to always choose life. It is just that simple. The Mitzvah is to choose life from conception to the grave. This is what the evil Samaritan does. He is not so evil after all. He knows to choose life, and this is the essence of the true Torah.
We see the same in the Travyon Martin story and in all the other tragedies mentioned above, and not mentioned. When we strip away the excuses and look at the incident with our own eyes, and our hearts instead of our dogma and our heads, we learn the correct answer, “choose life!” If we let this one go, Uncle Sai will be back next Sunday, or the next Sunday those strange people in that Rambler American station wagon show up.
Father Matthew also mentioned Matthew 25:31-Matthew 26:1, the Address to the Nations. “As you do to the least of these, you did it to me.” We see the same excuse making, in this story, as with the young scholar, “Adonoi, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?”
“We chose to hole ourselves up in our suburban neighborhoods and not see you hungry, thirsty, or in prison.” The minorities are not like us. We choose not to see them. They live over there. They are not my problem. We choose not to see that Matthew 26:1 begins the Passion. As we do to the least of our brothers, we do it to Jesus himself.
Father Matthew was mistaken on one key point. He chose the standard “dogma” which says none of us are worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. This is standard Pauline dogma. The truth is that we are all worthy, but not because of something we did or did not do. In this point he is correct.
We know that what the law/Torah/teaching says is addressed to those under Torah, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be a Tzaddic/charitable/just in his sight by observing Torah; for through Torah comes consciousness of deviation. The Tzaddicim/charity of God has been manifested apart from the Torah, though testified to by Torah and prophets. Romans 3:19
Dogma, Torah, the Law, does not save us. Teddy Kennedy, quoted below, explained what does. Justification, becoming a Tzaddic, just, righteous, charitable before God, does not come from dogma, doctrine, right wing or left wing. Tzaddic comes from Deuteronomy 30. It comes from looking with our eyes and seeing wrong and trying to right it, seeing suffering and trying to heal it, seeing war and trying to stop it.
The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society.
Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.”
For the fortunate among us, there is the temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths of personal ambition and financial success so grandly spread before those who enjoy the privilege of education. This is being content with our chickenfeed. But that is not the road history has marked out for us.
Like it or not, we live in times of danger and uncertainty. But they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history. All of us will ultimately be judged, and as the years pass we will surely judge ourselves on the effort we have contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which our ideals and goals have shaped that event.
“What it really all adds up to is love — not love as it is described with such facility in popular magazines, but the kind of love that is affection and respect, order and encouragement, and support. Our awareness of this was an incalculable source of strength, and because real love is something unselfish and involves sacrifice and giving, we could not help but profit from it.”