Parades and fireworks. Barbecues and beer. Freedom from tyranny and freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For most in the USA, some of these things were part of our 4th of July celebrations.
These are good things. It is good to gather, remember, and celebrate. Now that it has passed, however, Matthew’s Gospel points us to ponder something: God’s ways are different from our ways. Jesus taught about this often and in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus prays:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.”
Jesus prays this after experiencing many rejections of his message and way of life by local towns. The towns were amazed by how he was healing, empowering, and preaching. But they trusted their own deep-rooted habits and customs more than the renewing movement of God’s Spirit. So they did not change their ways to become compassionate towards the oppressed and vulnerable
This is a recurring theme not only in Scriptures but also in US history. For example, in 1852 Frederick Douglass orated a famous speech where he scolded the U.S. for clinging to an evil justified by human law and custom but contrary to divine wisdom.
Douglass declared: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless…your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy…”
Douglass, who himself was formerly enslaved, spoke those words with the fire of the Hebrew prophets at the height of the abolitionist movement. He, too, saw that the society was reflecting human habit and not God’s justice. Yes, our society is less oppressive today. But it remains a land fearful of reckoning with the enormity of this violence and its continuing harm.
God’s free offer of accompanying love and compassion threatens people who are comfortable in their ways. The “wise and learned” tend to be skeptical of the radical change in human relationships that Jesus proclaims. This Good News, however, is heard clearly by those who are wounded, oppressed, denigrated, and deemed as “nobodies”. These “little ones” respond to this invitation with joy, gratitude, and passion for justice, mercy, and wholeness.
Let us hold today’s Gospel and Douglass’ words in our hearts this week. Let us accept a future that God invites us to co-create; one of racial justice and beloved community.
Let us pray with Jesus. And let us embrace Jesus’ invitation, as he reminds us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,* and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Dr. Kevin Considine
Director of the Robert J. Schreiter, CPPS Institute for Precious Blood Spirituality