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.
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?
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.
Few things are more humbling for a professor than to hear your classroom assertions parroted back to you. In the student’s puerile response you hear an echo of your own pronouncement—but on undergraduate lips the thought sounds unbearably stupid.
S. Truett Cathy, founder of the Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, died last month. He believed that Christian principles didn’t conflict with good business practices. He has kept the restaurants closed on Sundays and encouraged stores to become involved in their communities. The business, worth $5.5 billion, has given $68 million to 700 educational and charitable organizations. The company came under fire in 2012 when Dan Cathy, president, made antigay marriage statements and was accused of supporting groups fighting same-sex marriage. Chick-fil-A subsequently stopped funding such groups (Christian Science Monitor, September 8).