Deuteronomy 1:16-17 (from “The Message”)
At the same time I have orders to your judges: “Listen carefully to complaints and accusations between your fellow Israelites. Judge fairly between each person and his fellow or foreigner. Don’t play favorites; treat the little and the big alike; listen carefully to each. Don’t be impressed by big names. This is God’s judgment you’re dealing with.”
My son, Ben, forgot his badge to get into his workplace in Boston. He’d driven in to get a few things he needed to continue his work virtually from home. It’s a pretty long trip by car. When he got close to the door, he realized his mistake. But the garage attendant saw him and let him in. Ben thanked him and the attendant told him, “You’re one of the only ones who speak to me. I KNOW you work here.” He told me this and said that he remembered how I told them to pay attention and be nice to the people who do the work of taking care of them. Of course, Rachel told them that, too. She quoted a professor of hers who said that one of the most important social justice questions one can answer is “What is the name of the person who collects your garbage?”
So we have Deuteronomy; the second telling of the law. It was probably written during the reform of Josiah (who was my favorite king in the Old Testament). Tom likes Bonhoeffer; I like Josiah! It is a series of “sermons” by Moses spoken to the people before they enter the Promised Land. Moses speaks and then goes up on the mountain and dies.
From the very beginning of the nation, there was to be no favoritism. At least in judgments. Of course, we know that human history is nothing BUT favoritism toward those who are known, powerful, rich, and important. We’ve all known that it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Some even go further and say that what’s even more important is who knows you! The very well-meaning woman in my church came to me one Sunday before worship and said that a certain man (who was wealthy and well-known) was sitting in the congregation. She said, “Pay attention to him. It’s people like HIM that we need to bring into this church.” I knew her; she didn’t mean exactly what she said…but the sentiment was there.
COVID-19 has forced judgments upon us. In some cases, medical facilities had to decide who they would try to save. Medical people were emotionally conflicted in making these judgments…which was a tribute to them. We all know how those who struggle to live struggle in any disaster, in any pandemic, in any aberration of what is normal. There are still houses destroyed by Florence that have yet to be restored. Many of them will never be. Their residents are long gone.
But from the start, God has told us to pay attention, to respect those who serve us, to care for those who care for us, to honor those who receive no honor from anyone else. Another thing I always told my boys was to over-tip the breakfast waitress. They work harder than all the others because they have to refill coffee, and breakfast is the cheapest of the three daily meals we eat…if we’re fortunate enough to eat three meals a day. Treat everyone the same, folks. It’s hard to do…but it’s probably as close as we’ll come to understanding God’s love.
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
feelings like buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save.
Pastor Rick Moser