No partiality

At the beginning of every congregational council meeting, members take turns sharing a personal experience of God — whether in their day, or in the past, or in childhood.

Last week a young adult member told us about participating in the ice bucket challenge that went viral on Youtube in the summer. At first he wondered whether this was not just another gimmick he should ignore.

But then he inquired why people were doing this — to raise funds and awareness about ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He watched another video of how this challenge began and learned what this meant personally to its promoters.

Citing the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12; 22: 39) and the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37) from the Bible, the council member concluded his devotions with the Gospel message: that Jesus shows no partiality. God’s love extends to Jews and Samaritans — even though in first century Palestine they were in conflict.

As a result, followers of Jesus are also called to love our neighbour as ourselves. Just because only 3,000 in Canada have Lou Gehrig’s Disease (a small number compared to the entire population) doesn’t mean we can ignore those who have this degenerative muscular, and fatal, disease. Minorities — however we define them — deserve our caring attention, especially if they are suffering in any way.

In another confrontation with the religious leaders of the day, Jesus confounds them by his response (Matthew 22:15-22). What we sometimes overlook in this tense exchange is the heated political context of the time:

The Emperor was putting more pressure on the local leadership in Palestine to firm its grip in the occupied territories. Rome was exercising greater power over the population by imposing currency imprinted with the Emperor’s face, and rescinding the privilege of the Sanhedrin to execute sentences of death. The pressure on Herod and Pilate in the region was mounting; their lives were at risk should there erupt any uprising or public defiance against Rome (read Shusaku Endo translated from the Japanese by Richard Shuchert, “A Life of Jesus” Paulist Press, Toronto, 1973, p.52-53)

At this point in the narrative, many remembered the recent beheading of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12). Those who opposed Rome recalled his charisma and powerful leadership. And now that he was gone, they looked to Jesus to carry the mantle of spearheading precisely such an uprising. All the various religious groups had stake in the politics of opposing Roman occupation of their lands — the Essenes, the Zealots, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Would Jesus be the one to rally the troops? Many were thinking it. And that is why they ask Jesus another trick question, significantly focusing on the new coinage.

It is also significant, I think, that there is truth in the Pharisees’ opening question: They say the truth about Jesus, even though they are plotting against Jesus who is aware of their ‘malice’. “We know,” they say, “that you show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”

They knew, despite their devious motives to trap Jesus, what Jesus was all about. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus is surprisingly expressed by sinful people. They, of all people, get it! Jesus stands with all people — even the minorities, those who live under oppression in occupied lands, even to those who we would rather ignore, or not see, or even hate.

Aboriginal people in Canada make up only 4% of the entire population. And we know their plight. As indigenous people on this land we call Canada, they are particularly disadvantaged in the dominant culture and economy. Things have started to get better for some of them. But certain systemic problems exist and persist — like endemic poverty, education inequality for children, lack of safety for women, and lack of access to safe drinking water.

Do we as followers of Jesus, like the religious leaders in Jesus day, know what Jesus is all about? That’s a good start. But it’s the follow-through that’s just as, if not more, important. What will we do to be more than just a Jesus-fan-club? What will we do when we encounter opportunities to live out the Gospel of Jesus?