By coincidence today's Gospel (Jesus' inaugural address) falls on the same weekend as the U.S. presidential inauguration. Comparisons are almost irresistible. Both have a certain solemnity as they lay out a program for coming years. And people react, even take sides. Still, in spite of similarities there are huge differences. The consequences of one are so incalculably greater than the other.
In a single homily I cannot present Jesus' entire "program." We do, however, see a clear emphasis. When he unrolled the Isaiah scroll, he found the passage of God aligning with the most humble: the physically defective, the jailed, the losers. And Jesus did not simply make a bunch of promises. He carried through. That will become evident, especially this year, as we embark on a continuous reading from St. Luke's Gospel.
What does this emphasis on the outcast mean for you and me? Let's begin with the most obvious. If Jesus sided with the weak, the defenseless, so must we. While specific persons will be different for each of us, there are three categories no one can ignore today: the terminally ill, the undocumented immigrant and the unborn. These three are the most vulnerable members of our present society.
The controversy around Linda Chavez showed the vulnerability of undocumented immigrants. They have come here, not for a vacation, but because they have no decent prospects in their own countries. And they come because we need them in our economy.*
In spite of their contribution they live with insecurity, even fear. They know at any moment their husband could be picked up by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). Or that she and her children could be arrested while walking in a park. As pastor of a parish with many immigrants, I see that anxiety ever day.
Another group is even more vulnerable because they literally have no voice. This week I watched a bit of the Ashcroft hearings. People like Senator Kennedy, who present themselves as passionate defenders of the vulnerable, kept referring to a woman's right to choose. Being a simple man I could not help asking myself, Choose what?
I would rather defend any of those choices than killing an unborn child.** And I wondered how people could have strayed so far from their liberal roots they now refer to that choice as "reproductive freedom." I do think I know how it happened, at least in broad outline. And I tremble to realize how easy any of us can get on a path which leads to embracing such contradictions. It is what C.S. Lewis referred to as the abolition of man himself.
To get back on the right course we must return to our roots, that is, to Jesus and the vision he outlines today:
*As economist John Hancock put it,
"Immigration is under fire. Immigrants are being blamed for exploding state costs, falling unskilled wages, and a domestic resident outpouring from the U.S.'s big cities . Recent California and federal laws that limit the available public aid to immigrants only highlight this growing rancor. Do immigrants deserve this bad press? In short, no.
"Granted, immigrants do depress low-skilled wages, but everyone benefits from the resulting lower prices. Younger immigrants are helping to fund baby boomer retirement, through Social Security contributions, and to sustain big city economies as native workers increasingly move out." (Immigrants: Keep or Keep Out?)
Myth: Immigrants Drain our Social Services
Fact: The Urban Institute has concluded that "immigrants actually generate significantly more in taxes paid than they cost in services." This is because undocumented workers, despite their ineligibility for most federal benefits, frequently have Social Security and income taxes withheld from their paychecks. In fact, immigrants pay substantially more in taxes every year than they receive in welfare benefits.
As a result, one commentator has pointed out, "a senior citizen on Social Security who lives in rural Kentucky is indirectly being subsidized by an immigrant who washes dishes in a chic restaurant in Santa Monica." Another commentator recently proposed that the best solution to the Social Security crisis caused by the aging of the baby boomers is to encourage immigration in order to create "instant adults" who will begin working immediately and paying into the Social Security system.
(I am not arguing we embrace the undocumented - or the unborn - for economic reasons. We have much more profound motives for doing so. At the same time we should not hesitate to point out many of the worldly arguments for rejecting them are flawed.)
**The defense would go something like this:
Of course, personally I am against poisoning husbands, but I will not impose my private religious convictions on anyone else. This is a delicate matter best left to a woman and her family doctor. By marriage she became one flesh with her husband. Therefore it is her body; it's her choice what she does with her own body. Conservatives say they want less government - then they ask the state to intrude in a private decision. The religious right argues husbands have "souls," but what scientific evidence can they give for their humanity? Have you observed them on Super Bowl Sunday? From an evolutionary perspective their behavior is the same level as lower primates. The right-wingers profess to care about husbands when they are lying on the couch - but do they help women burdened with them after the bowl games are over? Instead of always opposing a woman's right to choose, why can't religious conservatives just relax, join the American mainstream - and recognize husband poisoning as a sacred right enshrined in our constitution?
From Archives (Homilies for Third Sunday, Year C):
Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Abortion and Pro-Choice
Bulletin (Jan 21, 2001)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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