16 Feb 2020
I just had the opportunity to spend a week in Baja California. When I signed up for the trip it was in my mind a nice destination to escape cold weather in Iowa, not terribly far away, and not too long a time to be gone. I didn’t even worry about getting back two days ahead of an annual meeting in Denison nor did I worry about a homily. I figured God would provide and she did.
There was a time I thought that Jesus was demanding a behavior that only a few could ever achieve and that the bar was too high for me; not only too high but impossibly high; out of reach. Jesus was demanding a code of behavior so extreme that no one could achieve it. Never be angry?? I have had plenty of reasons to be angry at others over the course of my life. The statements about adultery and lust make me bristle with anger. Why would I follow Jesus when it is just as bad as anyone in treating women as property??
But there is another way and that is to be in relationship with each other and to value that relationship above all. I think that is exactly what Jesus was getting at. God asks us to be in relationship with each and every human being, and perhaps each and every creature, we encounter and to do so in a way that honors the other and honors God.
Being in Baja drove that home for me. I had been in Mexico exactly one other time in my life and that was literally to go over the border in Nogales to go shopping. Of course, that was back in the day when you didn’t need a passport or much of anything to cross.
This time I saw part of the Wall near San Diego. If you live in Tijuana it is much closer and easier to see. The crossing there is the most heavily used border crossing in the world. You cross with great effort and time spent.
But once in Mexico the books and the maps and all the bad or stereo-typical things people say about Mexico suddenly become real vistas and towns full of real people, to whom I can now put some names and faces. That is the thing: we need to figure out how to be in right relation-ship with one another and with the world around us. Then what Jesus says becomes timeless. He uses the things he knows in the world in which he lived to give his listeners, and us , a greater reality and one that is not out of reach.
In a nutshell: don’t treat others like dirt, ever. You are called not only to not kill someone, but to practice forgiveness and reconciliation at all times. Anger happens, but it must not be the final word or the final thought. In fact it is so important to reconcile that we should not even approach the alter until we have made peace with those who offended us or whom we offend. Why do you think we confess our sins before communion?? Our words are not a ritual but should always be a heart-felt desire to make things right.
Jesus also was teaching something very different about women: they are not property to be coveted. He is condemning the desire to have something that belongs to another, but the point is that we cannot objectify another human being and desire them as our own, nor should we covet anything that is not ours. I would daresay that means we should not covet the oil or the coal or the trees of the forest. The extraction economy that capitalism so loves is a violation of Jesus’ teaching.
Mexico has set aside huge areas of Baja as national parks or with a similar designation. They are certainly doing much more than our government to protect fragile and special areas and there is a great deal of buy in from those who live there in what is happening. You don’t find plastic bags and there are fewer and fewer plastic bottles. Straws are scarce as hen’s teeth. They see the litter and, while it is nearly impossible to keep the roads cleaned up, a huge effort is being made to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Eco tourism is a growing and thriving business.
Our group went whale watching three times in two different places. The local guides have developed a great respect and knowledge of the gray whale. 20 years ago a fisherman named Panchinco noted that some whales were coming up to his boat and that he could actually touch a few. Scientists started to investigate and found that it was true. Whaling had stopped and at least some of the whales seemed to want to interact with humans. We still don’t know exactly why, and the whales have not been very vocal about it, but they will come. A 35-40 ton animal, that fierce leviathan of the Bible, will come and seems to enjoy being touched by humans. They could just as easily ram a boat and send everyone into the ocean, but they don’t. You have to rethink a lot of things when you see them and touch them.
I think it gets back to Jesus and his words today in a very odd sort of way. You matter and how you are treated matters. How you treat others
matter and how you treat all of creation matters. We are to be a reconciling people. Does not our baptismal covenant say that we are to respect the dignity of every human being? I am to respect those with whom I live and those who live near me. I am to respect those with whom I disagree. That gets harder!! I am to respect those who live far away and about whom I may never know anything. That is just as hard!! And I am to respect the dignity of all creation and to do everything in my power to preserve what God has made.
God asks for your heart; are you ready to give it?