By Sister Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF
Since 2016, life in America feels like a cross between Groundhog Day (Different day, same results) and Alice in Wonderland: “Curiouser and curiouser.”
I read presidential tweets with unverified accusations and name-calling; see images of American citizens at political rallies spewing hatred; watch ongoing police brutality toward African-Americans; see foreign dictators embraced while traditional allies are disdained; and witness the human rights of immigrants, refugees, the poor and uninsured threatened with walls, cages, massive medical bills and jail cells. In this “post-truth” era, the mainline media is discredited and labeled as “fake news.”
Groundhog Day, indeed: It’s forced me to grapple with the question of how to live as a disciple during this surreal time in American history: How to respond and engage politically? Was Jesus himself “political?” –and if yes, what might that mean?
In first century Palestine, the Jews were oppressed and their land occupied by the Roman Empire. The poor were taxed ruthlessly to enhance the luxurious lifestyle of the nobility. Protests against this unjust system were met with torture, imprisonment and death. Devout Jews despaired over these conditions. Where was God? Didn’t God see their suffering? Why didn’t God act?
Instead, Jesus announced: “The Kingdom of God is already among you.” (Luke 17:21) This wasn’t poetry: He meant that there would be no superhero-God-swooping-in-to-save-them. Instead, the Jews themselves were to birth the Kingdom of God. They were to “make the way by walking,” living alternatives to Rome’s patterns of violence, intimidation and greed. They themselves needed to participate in overcoming the political evil of their day! They were to cross social boundaries; practice compassion and forgiveness; engage with strangers; share meals; and live in a nonviolent and more authentically human fashion.
As Jesus preached and healed, he moved around strategically so as to avoid capture, but when he was ready to “go up to Jerusalem and die,” he timed and orchestrated his arrest and death publicly, deliberately, and freely. It was clearly a political action. His call for a just and peaceable kingdom had branded him as dangerous to the status quo, and for this, he died. But before he did, he left a challenge to us who follow:
Be Salt. Be seasoning, Be flavor. Bring intensity and boldness.
Be Light. Bring clarity, not heat. Be a beacon, a candle. Dispel darkness.
As Franciscan instruments of peace, this “salting” and “lighting” must be non-violent: No name-calling, no lashing back, no anger. We are all—including our political “enemies”— children of God. As Franciscan Richard Rohr describes this mystery, “everything belongs.”
The journey toward creating God’s peaceable kingdom is shared by all of us. I do not need to be the messiah, nor do you: That job has already been taken. But we do need to do our small part. It may not feel like much, nor will it solve all injustice tomorrow, but it’s all we can do. I am comforted and challenged by this piece of Jewish wisdom:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now.
Walk humbly now, You are not obligated to complete the work, But neither are you free to abandon it. –The Talmud
Thus this mandate describes my own political resistance: However I can, wherever I can, Be Salt. Be Light. I invite you to join me.