What do we do when we experience injustice? What do we do when we see injustice? How we treat each other matters. And what we do and say when we see or experience injustice matters. And, it should go without saying, WE are to love our neighbors as ourselves, which means that we should not be unjust with each other…
Are you familiar with the Feast of Purim? I will occasionally see Hamantaschen cookies in the grocery store – they are the traditional Purim cookie. Purim is the Jewish feast day that Mordecai asked the people to keep – a feast day in celebration of their escape from destruction.
The book of Esther tells the story of King Ahasuerus, King of Persia, his Jewish Queen Esther, her uncle Mordecai, and their enemy and the King’s trusted official, Haman. Mordecai did not show Haman the respect he expected, so Haman wanted revenge. He knew that Mordecai was Jewish and so plotted, according to the story, to kill off the Jews in the Persian kingdom because they did not obey the King’s commands. He persuaded the King, who did not know that Esther was Jewish, to let Haman send letters throughout the kingdom giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews…
Esther, hearing of the letters and listening to the wisdom of Mordecai, invites both the King and Haman to several banquets, so charming the King that he promises to give her whatever she wants. She speaks up in defense of herself and her people. She speaks against the injustice and harm that Haman intends and is successful in changing the King’s mind. Haman is destroyed and the Jews are saved.
Esther speaks up against injustice. The disciples speak up because they’re not sure if what they see is just or unjust – a man who was not part of their group of disciples healing in Jesus’ name.
Jesus reminds his disciples, reminds us we’re not the ONLY good people. Anyone who does good in the name of God also is part of US – our brothers and sisters. We might not use the same language or pray the same prayers or feel welcome with each other in worship – but we belong to the same God and the same Spirit works in us.
Then Jesus goes on to say that if we put stumbling blocks before one of ‘these little ones’ we’d be better off thrown into the sea.
Okay, what is Jesus saying here? What does he mean? Jesus has just had the conversation with the disciples about how those who want to be first will be last and that we’re supposed to welcome the children. And we remember that in the first century, children were possessions, not considered worth much, and near the bottom of any power structure.
Jesus seems to be saying that if our actions cause children to abandon the faith, we are in trouble. It’s a powerful gospel for us as we consider how we treat our own children or the kids in the neighborhood around the church and around our country or around the world. If people know that we claim to be Christians, they will also know how we’re supposed to treat others. And they will know when we fail. I’ve been interested to read how other countries around the world have watched our conversations and interrogations of Dr. Ford and the Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. We claim to be a Christian nation. The world is watching.
Jesus then talks about salt and fire. What we lose in translation is that the word Jesus uses to talk about hell is ‘gehenna’ – that place outside the city of Jerusalem where those following the god Mollech sacrificed their children. The region became known as a place of fire – the fires of hell, the fires of gehenna – a terrible place. Jesus warns his disciples to avoid sacrificing our children and then says that we will all be salted with fire.
These words from Jesus are part of his ongoing conversation with the disciples – those who wish to save their lives will lose them and those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel will find them. Somehow, as Christians, we are to give up the lives we intended. We’re to allow the Spirit to burn away anything that doesn’t fit, that distracts us from right living and the kingdom way.
Fire may destroy. Fire also purifies. Fire gives warmth and light. Salt preserves and seasons. For everyone will be salted with fire… Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another. Fire to purify and salt to preserve.
We may not have the whole world’s eyes on us personally, but every day someone is watching what we do, what we say, and how we live. Every day someone is being brought closer to God or driven away by our words and actions. Most days we probably do a bit of both.
When we find ourselves being a hindrance, when we realize we’re not living up to our call, what are we to do? James reminds us: Pray. Pray for ourselves, pray for others, ask other to pray with us and for us. We aren’t perfect, we will never be perfect. But we can be forgiven and empowered to do better by the Spirit of God at work in us.
When we see others in danger or being abused or misused, what are we to do? Pray like James and act like Esther. Speak up. Be salt. Preserve peace. Bring warmth, kindness, and light to the situation.
O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we may be salt and light to your beloved world. Amen.