Propagandist or Prophet?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Nehemiah 9:1-15 (16-25), Revelation 18:1-8, Matthew 15:1-20


After the Israelites returned to Jerusalem from exile and purged themselves of foreign influences, the Levites (priestly class) offered a long prayer to the Lord. This prayer recounted the history of the Jewish people from creation to their current situation, and ended with a plea for help. This history included both the triumphs and failings of the Jewish people. It didn’t attempt to explain or excuse past transgressions; to do so would have been an affront to the Lord. The people’s current condition – better than exile yet not so good as complete freedom – was the culmination of all they had done, and asking for it to be better required a humbling honesty with themselves and the Lord about how they got there.

Nobody claimed, “I was born in exile, so I can’t be held responsible for exploiting those widows and orphans back then.” Nobody pointed a finger at the Ammonites and said, “It’s their women’s fault for agreeing to marry us.” No one interrupted the prayer with an unrelated diatribe about Hittite-on-Hittite crime.

Whether it’s today or 2600 years ago, a nation which truly wishes to embrace justice must come to terms with its past as a nation. The currently downtrodden and marginalized didn’t spring up overnight; they suffer and others prosper because of the violence, oppression, greed, and inhumanity of the past. It doesn’t matter how long ago something happened if people are still suffering the consequences today because it’s more comfortable to forget about how terrible we were and focus on how great we are.

If your palace is built on sand, it’s inevitably doomed until you dig deep to pour a solid foundation.

None of us is excused from corporate accountability for the past simply because we don’t feel individually guilty in the present. No one is asking us to feel guilty anyway; guilt is useless, maybe even detrimental, to national healing because it nudges us away from empathy and toward defensiveness. When we can’t admit (or worse yet try to excuse) what we as a people have done wrong, who was hurt by it, and why we did it, we’re all but destined to repeat it, much like Israel’s cycle of faithfulness, blasphemy, and devastation. To break the cycle, we must abandon the spin.

A nation is rarely short of propaganda, but prophets are in short supply. The former may make us feel good about being on the team, but the latter will tell us how to be a team worth belonging to.

Further reading: for thoughts on today’s passage from Matthew, see Lip Service.

Comfort: The truth sets you free … from a lot of things.

Challenge: Support the communities you belong to by holding them accountable.

Prayer: O Lord, I will be true to you above all others. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever been surprised to learn something new or different about history? Did you research to find out if it was true?

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