Independence Day Sunday
July 5, 2020
July 5, 2020
Leviticus 25: 8-12
Isaiah 58: 6-11
Many years ago, when I was around 12 or 13 years of age, I decided to read the Bible all the way through from Genesis to Revelation. Oh, I knew that would take at least a year, but I was willing to make the commitment and thought it would be no problem. Genesis was fine and I enjoyed reading the creation stories, and the account of about the patriarchs including Abraham and the story of Noah and the flood, Exodus was exciting when I read about Moses and the people of Israel and their journey out of Egypt in their quest for greener pastures and a new home. However, when I got to Leviticus I got bogged down. Too many regulations about how one should live, a heavy text for such a youthful spirit such as mine. I read the first ten chapters and stopped. Shall I say, I never did read the whole bible from cover to cover. Over the years I have become for selective in my approach to scripture.
In later life I realized that I had missed a great deal by not continuing to read material from the book of Leviticus. I missed today’s first reading which contains the words inscribed on the Liberty Bell – “Proclaim Liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”
In time I realized that Leviticus and some of the prophets were the sources of much of Jesus teachings. Afterall, his “bible” included the Torah, the first five books of the Bible and the prophets mainly. His ministry had a heavy emphasis on the reaching out to others – the poor and the outcasts, the lepers as and people thought of as alien. He often associated with others that polite society tended to avoid. Some texts from Leviticus had special meaning for Jesus.
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the
gleanings of your harvest. . .. you shall leave them for the poor and the alien.” – Leviticus 19: 9-10
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with
you shall be to you as the citizen among you, you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in
the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19: 33-34
If Jesus were literally walking among us today, I passionately believe he would treat all he met with respect. His teachings both in word and by his example emphasized the call to justice echoed in the second reading from Isaiah provide us with the fundamentals of our Faith.
How would one characterize the history of our country since its founding the late 1700’s? A democracy in the fullest sense was not so in the beginning. Generally, voting as limited to the owners of property and certainly to those who were white and male. Black slavery was permitted in most the states with the notable exception of Vermont, my home state of Pennsylvania and states formed out of the Northwest Territory. Slavery formally ended because of the American Civil War but with end of Reconstruction in 1877 conditions for African Americans worsened. However, from that period to the mid-21st century, most interpreters see that period as one step forward and two steps back, particularly in the South. The nation saw the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As time went by the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act was declared by the Supreme Court to be unnecessary – a questionable conclusion. Moreover, in our own time a number of state officials have become more creative in the area of voter suppression with the closing of the number of polling places which tended to discourage voter turn out with long lines at the polls and a higher level of voter identification even requiring a notary seal on the voter application which meant the voter had to pay for the right to vote. The latter requirement seems to harken back to a poll tax which was declared illegal a long time ago – one step forward and two steps back.
The treatment of African American deaths at the hands of law enforcement is also a major concern. The different treatment of Blacks such as George Floyd and the kicking of an individual after he had been shot in the back two times seems to indicate a different standard for Black lives rather than for white lives. To paraphrase the words on the Liberty Bell, all might hear the proclamation of liberty to all but all do not share in it.
I remember vividly the time in the late 1980s when I was teaching an Introduction to Philosophy course for Husson College in Bangor, Maine. We had just finished a unit of Immanuel Kant and his concept of the categorical imperative – shorthand definition – there is a right and wrong in this world, The enrollment of the class was small and consisted of three practical nurses who were working on their B.S. degree which was required to become R.N.’s. During a break in the class the next week one of participants came up and spoke to me about the class while I was in the canteen having a cup of coffee. Her comments were as follows: “I really love the class and it has been good for me. The other day my supervisor ordered me to do something with a patient. I knew what she was recommending was wrong and I told her it was the wrong thing to do. Prior to the class I never have thought of doing any thing like that.” Shall we say it was a brave thing for her to do. My thought at the time was “Beware of the power of philosophy!”
What happened to George Floyd and and the wounded individual kicked by the officer as well as to numerous other Black Lives is not something we should rationalize to the corners of the American experience. It was wrong and violated values we hold dear in this land, equal justice for all, a sense of respect for all of its citizens and those who dwell here and those beyond who look to our land as a beacon of liberty. Yes, our country has made progress in human relationships and between groups but obviously there is still much unfinished business before us.
I close with the words of a former president Calvin Coolidge in his speech to American Legion Convention in October 1925 at the height of the Klu Klux Klan. You have heard these words from me before but given what has transpired the past few months, they bear repeating.
If we are to have that harmony and tranquility, that union of spirit which is the foundation of real national genius and national progress, we must all realize that there are true Americans who did not happen to be born in our section of the country, who do not attend our place of religious worship, who are not of our racial stock, or who are not proficient in our language. If we are to create on this continent a free Republic and an enlightened civilization that will be capable of reflecting the true greatness and glory of mankind, it will be necessary to regard these differences as accidental and unessential. We shall have to look beyond the outward manifestations of race and creed. Divine Providence has not bestowed upon any race a monopoly of patriotism and character.
Source: Toleration and Liberalism