From the Gospel of Mark (MK 12:38-40)
In the course of his teaching Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”
I wasn’t wearing long robes. I was wearing a business suit. I got on the San Francisco Muni, the bus that would take me to the financial district, where I was working a gig with a non-profit client. I moved toward the back of the bus, because if you don’t, people can’t get on. I have had to wait for a second or third bus before, making me late to work. At times, I’ve ridden illegally in the stairwell.
As I got near the back and grabbed onto a bar, a woman offered me her seat. She looked 10-15 years older than me, but I wasn’t sure. Sometimes it’s not the years, but the miles. She was dressed for factory work or cleaning houses. At first I was confused, next I thought, how nice. Then it dawned on me what was happening.
I wanted to cry. I wanted to look her straight in her eyes and tell her “You are every bit as valuable as I am.” I wondered how many times people had told her otherwise, by their words, looks, actions. Would she even believe me? Looking at her, I thought, “You are likely going to work harder, get dirtier, and come home more tired than I am. You deserve to sit.” But emotion made my brain into mush. I couldn’t find the words. Instead, I lamely said “No, but thank you.”
God loves and values all of us, no favorites. Jesus showed respect for people’s human dignity no matter their gender, ethnicity, or social status. That made him a threat to the establishment – the religious hierarchy and the Roman occupation – and led to his murder. Solidarity is the way of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus instructed his followers to go preaching that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. As we talk that talk, we also need to walk the walk. Part of making it true, that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, is showing solidarity with the marginalized and devalued people in our community.
Jesus said about the religious men who use their religious authority to receive honor, that “they devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, and recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation”. They are doing more than receiving honor. They are creating hell on earth. That condemnation is at hand, now, not just in some place after death. It’s in the society that they are building, where it’s OK to mistreat people based on social status, Not just a widow, but now a homeless widow. That’s not God’s way.
If you have seen any of the news these past two weeks, you know that times have not changed. We are still welcoming and honoring some people who are actively creating a society that is hell for others. As our country, leaders and individuals, consider addressing the structural, sinful causes of division, oppression, and violence, let us keep all the people of our country, all the people in our country, in our prayers.