We live in uncertain times, to say the least, especially when it comes to the current American political situation, riven as it is by bitter partisanship and vicious rhetoric. I am reminded, in fact, of Marc Anthony’s exclamation in Julius Caesar: “O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts; And men have lost their reason!” [Act 5, Scene 3].
To be sure, our reasons not always wholly articulate. Sometimes they lie buried under tribal customs, personal doubts, and dim hopes for something we’re not quite sure what. But to watch the election campaign sinking into the quagmire of innuendo and character assassination that has marked the current campaign season is discouraging — so discouraging that it might well deter voters from participating at all, which would be a grave mistake in what still purports to be a democratic process, once a beacon to the world.
Turning to today’s readings provides some comfort and a helpful perspective. The Word of God begins with a passage from one of the most beautiful books in the biblical tradition, The Wisdom of Solomon. It is not an ancient text despite the attribution, but a work of late Jewish spirituality, probably written in Alexandria a century or less before the birth of Jesus. Here we encounter the overriding belief in the goodness of Creation, faith that God loves everything that exists, holding nothing in abhorrence, present everywhere, blessing all things, sparing all things, correcting those who offend, admonishing and reminding us, so that all peoples may abstain from wrong-doing and learn to trust.
The lesson is borne home more simply in the reading from Paul’s very early letter to the Christians of Thessalonica, who had become agitated by predictions of the final days. Get a grip, he says in effect: God is still in charge. And for heaven’s sake, beware of wild predictions and panicky prophecies circulating in what was, I suppose, the first century equivalent of the social media. “…we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” [2 Th 2:1-2].
Luke’s account of the conversion of the obscenely rich tax collector, Zacchaeus, brings the story even closer. Tax collectors made their fortune by taking often exorbitant fees for exacting tax money for the Roman occupiers from their countrymen and were roundly despised for it. It was not only dishonest and unpatriotic, but a thoroughly disreputable business. But Zacchaeus wants to see this fellow Jesus and climbs a sycamore tree for a better view. Up a tree, this little political hack is struck by the invitation that saves his soul and no doubt his reputation. “Today,” Jesus says, “salvation has come to this house…”
As Voting Day approaches, we could well remember that truth, justice, peace, love, and freedom are important not because they are useful or interesting, but because they are rooted in a common experience of longing and aspiration for a better world. They have a center and a focus in the very heart of God. They go together or not likely at all. Nor are goodness and beauty mere words, but realities grounded in Creation itself. Today’s Word assures us that the universe has meaning and value — all of it and each atom of it. And so it is not foolish to maintain that that right and wrong are not arbitrary assignments, but like space and time are woven into the fabric of existence itself, and that as my old mentor at Oxford, a world-class scientist, believed to his dying day, there is a force that makes for righteousness in the universe.
Life is not an accident, but a gift, a gift that has been given to be cherished but also has consequences. And so, as Zacchaeus reminds us, choices matter, there are sides to take, decision to be made, responsibilities waiting. The quest for a just and peaceful society stems from an inheritance worth insuring and enhancing for all God’s children. Every vote counts.