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?
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.
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.
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.
Fighting for the poor and disadvantaged isn’t an aberration for the nuns on the Nuns on the Bus tour, led by Sister Simone Campbell. Their order, the Sisters of Social Service, was founded in Hungary in 1923 with a commitment to social justice. Their founder was the first woman elected to the Hungarian parliament. Another member was executed by the Nazis for hiding Jews in her hostel and was beatified by Pope Benedict in 2006. The order is credited with having spared the lives of at least 1,000 Jews during the Hitler era. From their beginning they’ve worn a simple gray suit that ordinary women might wear, not a habit (Harper’s, August).