Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Lectionary: 222

If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech; If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land.

You know you've found the right, middle path when both parties in a feud accuse you of kowtowing to the other side. Within hours of Pope Francis issuing his encyclical, Laudato Si, environmentalists were complaining about his preoccupation with social justice and the social justice people complained about his muddle-headed concern for the environment. 

The Holy Father simply reflected the teaching of the Prophet Isaiah, who saw that "If you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted ... the Lord will give you plenty even on the parched land." When the life of every city was deeply enmeshed with the productivity of the land, it was not hard to see how drought, flooding, earthquakes or pestilence might be used to punish wickedness within the city. 

The same attitude that regards human labor as a commodity to be bought, sold and traded regards the natural beauty and resourcefulness of the earth as a gold mine for greed. Both attitudes are not only sinful, they are destined to fail. 

Nor will God have to pronounce sentence on those attitudes. The heirs of today's waste will condemn us even as ancient Jews regretted the sins of their ancestors: 

Psalm 106
 6 We have sinned like our ancestors;
we have done wrong and are guilty....
14 In the desert they gave in to their cravings,
tempted God in the wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked
and sent a wasting disease against them....
19 At Horeb they fashioned a calf, worshiped a metal statue.
20 They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bull.
21 They forgot the God who had saved them, who had done great deeds in Egypt,
Regret for the sins of our ancestors is nothing new to Americans. We regret the peculiar institution of slavery and the intentional destruction of Native American cultures. We regret the destruction of arable land in eastern states as pillaging farmers wasted the soiled and then moved westward. Those once-luxuriant fields are now overrun with scrub pine forests. We regret the disappearance of the passenger pigeon, that glorious bird that, at one time, blotted out the skies with its enormous flocks. They were destroyed with their habitat, even as they were hunted to extinction for their spectacular plumage. North America is not as beautiful God made it. 

Although we regret the sins of our ancestors we have not changed our ways. We believe our capitalistic systems, although they exploit land and people, wasting resources and human lives -- are the American way, the right way and the only way. 

However, the disappearance of the middle class and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots portend a violent end to that system. The 2016 race for the American presidency offers polarized candidates who will only grow harder and more violent in 2020. 

During Lent we consider our sins -- especially the sins of our community. My particular sexual foibles and petty gossip may be embarrassing but our sins are enormous. What does God want me to do about that? 

First, learn about the real world of economics; second, discuss the crisis with others; third, pray for divine guidance; fourth, do something. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.