Monday, March 25, 2013

Nine Months!

AKA ~ "Holy Horizontal Mambo Day"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Poor Will Always be With You

John 12:1-8

There has been something that has really been driving me crazy as of late.  It seems that the new group to pick on is the poor.  I see petitions floating around talking about how all people who receive welfare should have to take drug tests.  Even when it is pointed out that the majority of people who take drugs are not on welfare, this has no impact.  Even when it is shown that it cost more to test people than what is saved by denying benefits to those who test positive, the excuse is that the tests just need to be made cheaper because we KNOW that THOSE people are on drugs.  Or when we come up with plans to help the unemployed, the response is that the people should just get off their duffs and get a job.  And I wonder why there is such a mean attitude to those who are in need.  The usual response is, “I work for my money, so should they!”
Yeah, the poor will always be with us.  And since they will always be with us, what is the use of doing anything to help them.  And besides, shouldn’t they be going out and helping themselves?  God helps those who help themselves!  (Actually, that is no from the Bible at all, it is from The Poor Richard’s Almanac.)
Still, in our gospel reading for today, we have Jesus saying these exact words, “you always have the poor with you…”  It sounds kind of like a slap in the face of Judas.  Judas was commenting on how the money for the perfume could have been spent to help the poor.  This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it?  But then Jesus comes back with this smack:  You should spend the money on me (that would be Jesus) because those poor people will always be with you.  You can feed them tomorrow or whenever.  And I will grant you, Jesus’ words are a smack to Judas, but not for the reasons we normally assume.
Being a good Jewish boy, (and definitely before our age of distraction), Judas would have been familiar with the law.  He would have been familiar with what was written in Deuteronomy.  He would have known that what Jesus said was a reference to Deuteronomy 15.  And he would have known that his plan to steal the money had been recognized for what it was; not a plan to help the poor, but a plan to line his own pockets.
To understand this, we need to look at Deuteronomy 15.  Deuteronomy 15 DOES say that the poor will always be with us, but it is not a statement of resignation.  What it is, though, is an indictment on how we live.  The people are told that the land they will be given by God is a land of abundance.  And in the face of this abundance, there should be no hunger or poverty.  We are to be truly loving and generous. We are to share our God-give abundance and, as such, prevent poverty from ever entering the land.  But the quote says that the poor will always be with us.  Again, this is not that God makes poor people, but we are NOT be generous and loving.  We will NOT share the abundance we find.  We will keep the abundance for ourselves and come up with excuses as to why the others are lacking.  We are presented with a real possibility end hunger and poverty, but the statement of resignation is that we will continue to practice our selfish ways while shifting the blame to others.
And lest we think this is just some past thing, not something that applies to us today; since 2001, the US has spent more than $1.4 trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This could have bought groceries for 660 million people in the US for one year, not to mention what it could have done for those in other parts of the world.  Yes, at this rate, the poor will always be with us.
So when Judas says that the money for the perfume Mary is putting on Jesus’ feet could be given to the poor, Jesus’ response is a smack to Judas, saying, “It could help the poor, but you would never use it for that.”
It may seem weird that I would be talking to you here, this morning, in Statesalvania, State, about what is spent on war, but unless we talk about it, and do something about it, it is not going to change.  It is easy to say that we are too old to do anything, or that we are just one person.  But we don’t get off that easy.  The new pope, Pope Francis, is 77 years old.  The Catholic Church must assume that older folks are capable of something!  And what about Mother Teresa?  She was one person who made a lot of difference!  And Gandhi:  When he started he was both one person AND old!  We are capable of making a difference!  To say “we can’t” says more about our faith in God than in God’s ability in the world.
So Jesus is smacking Judas for trying to look all holy when, in fact, Jesus knew that Judas intended to keep money; but what are we to make of the “but you do not always have me” part?  I couldn’t find anything in the commentaries about this part, so I will venture a guess:  Even if we don’t want to help the people around us because God has blessed us so richly, we should be helping others because in doing so we worship Christ.
Christ is saying that it is okay for us to lavish affection onto Christ.  And that we in fact NEED to do this because Christ will not always be with us.  So, if we believe that Christ lives in each of us, because of our baptism, then we NEED to be lavishing affection upon each other because we do not know how long this person will be with us!  Instead of calling each other lazy or foolish, or prodigal (remember last week??!?), we should be looking for ways to show love, honor, and respect to all the people we meet.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all followed this?  Can you imagine what the world would be like if even a simple majority followed this?  What a different would we would have!
My challenge for you for the rest of Lent is to not look at the poor and needy as the takers of society, but to see the spark of Christ within them.  I challenge you to follow the example of Mary and lavish them with love and affection.  I challenge you to not think of it as giving to the poor but as worshiping our Savior.  Will this be easy?  No.  Will we want to do it?  I don’t know, quite possibly not.  But we are called to share the abundance we have been given, and we are called to do it while we still have Christ among us. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

"What do we want?" "PUNISHMENT!"

Ok, I tend to be a bit of a reductionist.  So, this will be reductionistic.

What I see is we in the US tend to really like punishment.  That seems to be the first tool we jump to.  People speeding?  Punish!  People misbehaving?  Punish!  People addicted to drugs?  Punish!  People doing things we don't like?  PUNISH!!!

At times, this seems to be the only tool in the toolbox!  No matter what, we need to jump to punishment.  And frankly, in my opinion, punishment is the most lazy way of dealing with anything.  All we have to do is look.  Does punishment stop speeding?  It slows people down when the cops are around.  And it slows some people down.  But it really seems to have minimal effect.

I know that speeding is just one example, but when we think about it, punishment really doesn't work.  When we punish children, all we end up teaching them is how to be more sneaky.

I learned that behavior is results driven.  We change behavior, not by punishing it, but by making it easier to get the desired result.  When we punish the behavior, we only stop the behavior while the punishing force it present.  But when we find ways to fulfill the needs that cause the behavior, we can make positive, durable change.

Another assumption of punishment is if we punish the behavior, people will just come up with alternate, positive, behaviors.

This just shows a lack of social awareness.  What might be an "appropriate" behavior in my community may be deemed "inappropriate" in another community.  To punish someone for something that we assume, "Everyone should know that," does not help the situation.  We need to look at ways to teach people to prosper.

I look at the vitriol I hear about people receiving welfare.  "They should get a job!"  Removing the welfare (punishing) will not teach the person to have better job-hunting skills.  The assumption is the person is lazy and we need to punish the person to make the person less lazy.  When I look at many of the GOP (Sorry, not meaning to attack) arguments, they have at their base the concept of punishment/reward.  "You are not doing the right thing, therefore you are being punished.  I am doing the right thing, therefore I am being rewarded."  The problem is that what is punished and what is rewarded has never been specified.

Kind of haphazard.  Sorry.  Just thoughts in process.