31 Jul 2011
“When [Jesus] disembarked and saw the vast crowd, His heart was moved with pity for them … (Matt. 14:14) In the name …
So as of Tuesday we all become citizens of a deadbeat nation. Our politicians have decided to just not pay our bills. Well, since these politicians are supposed to be our democratic leaders, and what’s good for them in Washington should be good for little ol’ me in South Deerfield, I think I’ll just give a call up to Kristin’s college. Her first college tuition payment is due tomorrow. Instead of sending along a check, I think I’ll send them a little note telling them I’ve chosen to spend the money elsewhere and that because of that I just don’t have enough for them at this time. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery so our politicians should be proud of me and only too willing to back me up on this issue.
Now obviously I can’t do this. The real world doesn’t work like Washington. But what I did do is send an e-mail down to the powers that be who are charged with the government of our once proud nation. And I know it probably never made it past some summer intern’s desk, but I sent it anyway. And I included a line from Thomas Jefferson after he was elected in the first real political contest of our young nation. Jefferson told the nation in his first inaugural address: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle.” Back in 1800 there was mean political infighting. Politics was dirty back then, maybe even dirtier than today. There were people who held very different views of where our nation should be heading, and they viewed the plans of the opposition as potentially disastrous for the country. Yet Jefferson assumed the office of President by pointing to the fact that the differences were legitimate because the underlying principle was the same. To whichever party they belonged, they looked at the country with the same democratic principle. Jefferson was a fierce politician. He fought like the devil against his political opponents, but he still respected them. He still trusted that their motives, just like his, were for the good of the country and her people.
Where did that sense of respect go among our politicians? The football strike ended this past week. When the players are on the field, they hit each other as hard as they can, they talk smack to their opponents as they line up nose to nose, they dance in the end zone and they gloat over a sacked quarterback. But when it was time to deal with the NFL owners, they stood together as players. They compete fiercely, but they respect each other as professional athletes. I don’t watch much football, but I like watching baseball. I sometimes wonder what the players are talking about when the cameras show a guy getting a single and he’s standing there at first base having a short laugh with the first-baseman from the other team. They do whatever they can to win the game, but they still respect each other as professional athletes. As competitive as they are, they can still see how they are the same. I don’t get that sense of respect among our political elite.
If we can’t learn from the example of our politicians, maybe we can learn from their mistakes. Religion has to be careful. There is an ever-increasing polarization among people of religious conviction, not unlike that of modern politics. To hold onto our faith firmly is commendable, but that should also mean respecting it when someone else holds onto their faith just as firmly. A 17th century Christian once remarked with words no less relevant today: “In necessary things, unity. In doubtful things, liberty. In all things, charity.” As people of faith we have bigger things to worry about than in which building we choose to worship God. Maybe we can steal Jefferson’s words for our own purposes when he said: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”
Take this morning’s Gospel for example. Jesus is seeking seclusion and rest in order to mourn the execution of John the Baptist. Others are also in disarray. They don’t know how to handle their feelings of anger, vengeance and fear after King Herod kills John. They seek out Jesus for guidance, but Jesus Himself needs time alone. He’s prepared for solitude. Instead, He disembarks from the boat and is surprised to see this crowd of people looking to Him for help. Jesus sees His connection with them, as the Bible puts it, “His heart was moved with pity.” (Matt. 14:14) The people who were following John were most likely not the ones following Jesus, but Jesus didn’t concentrate on their differences. He concentrated on what they held in common, and He ministered to them.
Jesus does not give up heaven to conform or confirm our way of life or our perspective. Jesus comes to us to confront us with His reality. The reality of our world is divisiveness. But this is where we can learn from the mistakes of our political leaders and the divisiveness they thrive upon. We can learn the lesson of Jesus to focus on the principles that hold us together in spite of our differences, and we can seek to heal rather than hurt, to compromise rather than ridicule. St. Paul puts it quite nicely: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Rom. 12:2) Let’s stop letting politicians play games with religion, and lets stop letting religion imitate politics. We need a higher standard. We need the example of Christ getting out of that boat, exhausted, longing for solitude, and seeing that crowd of people who were not His own, but who were still lost and hurting, and going into their midst and being one with them. This is who we are called to follow. This is the kind of believer we are asked to be.
Small-minded, stubborn people fill our news. Let us pray that they don’t fill our pews. Let us pray for a strong conviction of faith so that we can see what unites us because we’re not afraid of what differentiates us. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo