Tonight is the one service of the year in which many churches practice
footwashing. Others don’t do it at all, despite the fact that after
washing Peter's feet Jesus says, "You also ought to wash one another's feet."
We Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to point to the pain that the rest of the world can’t see. Others may stroll past the suffering, but we stop and stare, take up an offering, make an appeal and collect blankets, sighing as we do our bit to alleviate some of the misery. That life may not actually be rotten in our part of the world today only increases our guilt for our occasional lapses into joy. How dare we sing when others are sufffering?
A banner in the Alice Millar Chapel at Northwestern University features these two statements set off from each other: Do not DESPAIR one of the thieves was SAVED; Do not PRESUME one of the thieves was DAMNED. The couplet refers to the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus, as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. The second half of the couplet, which is attributed to St. Augustine, is ambiguous. We could treat it as a command to presume that the second thief was damned. But I prefer taking the word presume as a synonym of assume: we should not necessarily assume that the second thief wasn’t saved. After all, Luke’s Gospel says nothing about his fate.
When Studs Terkel, described by Donna Seaman as “oral historian, writer of conscience and raconteur-on-a-mission,” died on Halloween in 2008, he left a tall stack of books behind him. None affected me more than one called Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.
In response to the religious leaders' concern that Jesus was welcoming
and associating with clearly unreligious people, Jesus told stories
about God's attitude toward such wayward folk, as we find in Luke 15, from which this week's Gospel reading comes.
Josephine Finda Sellu, a nurse supervisor, is on the front line of the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone. She lost 15 of her nurses in rapid succession. As other workers left the hospital, her family begged her to quit her job. Some of her colleagues have been abandoned by their families due to fear of the disease. Usually a tower of strength, Sellu cries when she talks about the nurses she’s lost to the disease. She sometimes wishes she had become a secretary instead, but she sees her job as a healer as a calling from God (New York Times, August 23).