Zechariah heard God speak. This is what he heard. “Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.”
For a long time it was understood that brother meant just that, the one to whom I am related, and more particularly, the male to whom I am related. I imagine that by implication it also included the widows and poor within my clan as well as visiting relatives. Any one outside those boundaries was fair game? I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus set the record straight through his engagement with demoniacs, Canaanites, Syro-Phoenicians, Samaritans, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Herodians, and, in case one missed the point, through the parable of the Good Samaritan as well. His disciples continued so that within the span of a generation the gospel had been proclaimed in every part of the Roman Empire and beyond.
One would think that Christians would embrace the whole idea, but clan and class are powerful opponents. Not more than twenty years ago I listened to a reasonably well educated Episcopal priest assert that all that Zechariah heard God say applied only to fellow Christians because the synoptic Jesus proclaimed his brothers and sisters to be those who followed him in doing God’s will, which, of course, means us Christians and not others. To me that misses the whole point of all that Jesus taught and for which he died. Even within Christendom we have been comfortable discriminating against each other in similar ways based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and presently on sexual orientation. How twisted is that?
Through Zechariah, God warned against devising evil against our brothers in our hearts, and that’s worthy of some reflection all by itself. To devise does not require action, it only requires rough planning, but ‘in our hearts’ doesn’t even require that. In our hearts implies more of an unplanned but earnestly felt intention. Evil, at least in its older sense, is the whole realm of ordinary bad things happening as much by chance as anything else. So we might interpret God as warning us not to carry grudges or wish bad things on others.
These are pretty high bars:
- Be honest and fair in our judgments
- Show kindness and mercy.
- Do not create conditions of oppression for widows, the poor, or those who sojourn among us.
- Hold no grudges and do not wish bad things on others.
My tradition begins worship this Sunday with a prayer that Jesus at his coming might find in us a mansion prepared for himself. Will he? Or will he find no room at our inns because we are unable to judge wisely, and care for the poor, oppressed and sojourners who are not of our family, class, clan or race. Will he find us ready to scorn, turn away and wish evil upon his head? Remember, that the first time he came as a stranger, an infant of a poor sojourning family. What makes us think we will recognize him any better when he comes to us in our time?
“O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray: cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”