Joy–Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God: a Reflection on Psalm 67, Isaiah 56:1,6-8, M
What is the moral high ground when it comes to human dignity? All people are created in the image of God. According to the Bible there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The incident in Charlottesville last weekend is wrong and there is no room for racism, bigotry, or prejudice. God is offended. Humanity is offended. Heather Heyer’s family is offended. The moral outrage should be deafening and resound throughout our great country. Our silence makes us complicit.
In his book Connecting Christ, Paul Metzger relates the story of the friendship between Elie Wiesel and the French writer Francois Mauriac. While in Auschwitz, Wiesel was separated from his mother and sisters and forced to watch his father die at the hands of the Nazi guards. As a young writer, Wiesel had the chance to interview Mauriac, a prominent Christian writer and former leader in the French Resistance movement. Wiesel wanted Mauriac to assist him in thinking through the upside as well as the downside of becoming a writer. In a 1996 interview, Wiesel recounts:
Mauriac was an old man then, but when I came to Mauriac, he agreed to see me. We met and we had a painful discussion. The problem was that [Mauriac] was in love with Jesus. He was the most decent person I ever met in that field—as a writer, as a [Christian] writer. Honest, sense of integrity, and he was in love with Jesus. He spoke only of Jesus. Whatever I would ask—Jesus. Finally … when he said Jesus again I couldn’t take it, and … I was discourteous, which I regret to this day. I said, “Mr. Mauriac … ten years or so ago, I have seen children, hundreds of Jewish children, who suffered more than Jesus did on his cross, and we do not speak about it.” I felt all of a sudden so embarrassed. I closed my notebook and went to the elevator. He ran after me. He pulled me back; he sat down in his chair, and I in mine, and he began weeping. I have rarely seen an old man weep like that, and I felt like such an idiot. I felt like a criminal. This man didn’t deserve that. He was really a pure man, a member of the Resistance. I didn’t know what to do. We stayed there like that, he weeping and I closed in my own remorse. And then, at the end … he simply said, “You know, maybe you should talk about it?” He took me to the elevator and embraced me. And that year, the tenth year, I began writing [Night, my novel about the Holocaust]. After it was translated from Yiddish into French, I sent it to him. We were very, very close friends until his death.
Later in his life Wiesel surmised that it was Mauriac, “who declared himself in love with Christ,” who influenced him to share his story and become a writer.
The psalmist reminds us that God is the fountain of all that is good. God wants us to participate in writing that story, helping other people know how loved they are. Isaiah reminds us that salvation is not exclusive or isolationist. All who align themselves with the promise of God’s deliverance are included. A non-Jewish woman came to Jesus because her daughter was demon-possessed. The woman understood her unwelcomed status within Judaism. Jesus told her to wait until the children were fed. Paul is clear that no power or principality can separate us from God. But racism, bigotry, and prejudice do impact one’s perception of a loving God and not being separated from God.
In Jesus’ day, as in ours, there was much national and religious prejudice. The feeding of the Syrophoenician woman is a third feeding story sandwiched in between the feeding of thousands. It was one thing when Jesus fed the five thousand near his hometown, where everyone was from the same “people group” and shared the same religion. There was plenty for God’s chosen people. It is another thing to feed “a dog,” the Gentile Syrophoenician woman; and yet another thing when Jesus fed the four thousand in Gennesaret. For there he was saying that God’s bounty, the Good News of the Gospel, extended to Gentiles, foreigners, not just one. The Gospel does not discriminate against anyone; its abundance is poured out on all. When racism, bigotry, and prejudice persist, religious belief has but two choices: to be a bigoted people proclaiming a bigoted God, a God constructed in the image of the most unappealing aspects of our being; or to be a benevolent people striving to live out that true and divine image with which God stamped us in creation. Brennan Manning writes,
Nowadays if I want to put on my jeans and shirt, someone has to help me. If I want to eat a slice of pepperoni pizza…or an ice-cream cone, someone has to help me. If I have to go to the bathroom, I need help. To turn up the volume on the Yankees game, I need help. To access my medicine or open my Diet Coke, I must have help. To get into bed at night, help. To rise in the morning, help. To nap in the afternoon, help…Carlo Carretto wrote, “We are what we pray.” These are days of prayer without ceasing. “Help me! Have mercy on me!” And my Father, who is so very fond of me, does.”
There is joy in unity…reconciliation. The blessing of being God’s people is for the benefit of others knowing that they too belong to God. God does not let any of us go! “…it is impossible for God to reject God’s own beloved, those whom God has created and called, ‘for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’ (v. 29b).” Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation writes, “Our ongoing collective participation in the process of reconciliation can transform our society into a place where shalom becomes a greater reality and all people can thrive. Our collective calling is to make the kingdom of God visible on earth.” As followers of Jesus Christ, we must claim the higher moral ground, because we have been claimed by such. In the name of the Triune God, we must renounce any ideology that seeks to lessen the dignity and worth of all persons, for all persons are created in the imago Dei. We need Jesus. May we each cry out, “Lord, help me.”
Paul Metzger, Connecting Christ (Thomas Nelson, 2012), 73-74.
Brennan Manning, All is Grace (Colorado Springs, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011), 188.
Mary Beth Anton in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 353.
Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 124.