Hmmm, no parable today, but an extensive list of directives: “love your enemies…give to everyone who asks…pray for those who mistreat you…stop judging”. This is quite a “To Do” list for a Christian. And as a mere mortal, it is a bit overwhelming to take in, let alone try to incorporate it in my daily life.
Learning to be merciful or to stop condemning takes a long time. Knowing myself, I know I will not be able to get to that place where I can always follow the instructions Jesus laid out for us in today’s Gospel. So, do I just give up? Or do I ask for help as in today’s Psalm: “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.” Maybe I just got lucky or maybe God is trying to reinforce the idea that asking for help is not a bad idea as shortly after I said that prayer, I ran across The Grace of Silence, (Pantheon Books, 2010) by Michelle Norris. Her description of the response of African American World War II veterans to the racist treatment they suffered reminded me of today’s gospel. Her book provided models of everyday people who embodies Jesus’s directives.
“…I’ve since spoken to black World War II veterans, who like Belvin Norris [her father], endured slights and indignities while and after serving their country. To a man, they’d kept their stories to themselves, refusing to discuss them with their lovers or wives, their children or coworkers or fellow church members. Tales of bitterness or victimization did not jibe with the narratives of themselves they’d created….The treatment of black veterans during and after World War II is a hard truth for America to embrace. Unlike the civil rights struggle of the sixties, which enshrined clear-cut heroes and villains, discriminations suffered by black veterans challenges the country’s core values (page 124)…The story of these men and women instances a special brand of grace: they had every reason to stoke their anger at America but chose instead to seek a higher ground. While they hoped for and, in some cases, demanded the right to vote, fair wages, and equal housing, they were also asserting a much more basic claim. They wanted the right simply to be ordinary: to be able to walk into Woolworth’s, order a ham sandwich and savor it on the spot; to be able to fly a kite with a son or daughter anywhere in a park without fear of retribution…..” (Page 125).
The conclusion she came to in trying to understand her father’s silence about his experience of police brutality right after he was discharged from the Navy, was that he did not want his life or his children’s lives to be defined by that trauma. While his silence carried a high personal cost, his daughter Michelle, was able to grow up believing she could be anything she wanted. His silence protected her and gave her the confidence to become who she is, a successful journalist. Her live was not defined by fear based on her father’s experience. His silence created a space and opportunity for her to pursue her dreams and empowered her not to believe her life would be limited by the color of her skin.
The African American WW II veterans seems to personify the directives Jesus laid out for us today. Their grace and their dignity in demanding to be able to vote or just to be able to use a restroom helped us become a better nation and we have all benefited from their sacrifices, not just their sons and daughters. Their bravery in asking America to live up to its core values paved the way in dismantling a system that restricted people’s lives based on the color of their skin. Not that we are past that issue. It is a long journey to create inclusive communities where all are welcomed. By being “do-ers of the word, not hearers” these brave veterans moved us closer to the vision Jesus laid out in today’s gospel.
Along with Jesus’ tough instructions, I will remember the line from today’s first reading: “love builds up” as I try to follow in the footsteps of the World War II veterans and act so I ‘build up’ everyone.