In Praise of Generosity – Paul Santmire reflects on a kairos moment for Americans.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for Sunday September 18-24, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023, 2026)
Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
In the liberal state of Massachusetts, a woman phoned into a radio talk show to ask that state’s governor a question: “Why do we have to spend our money to take care of somebody else’s children?” She was referring to the governor’s announced intention to provide a temporary, but safe place for some of the thousands of children who had been crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, in order to escape the constant violence of countries like Honduras.
Hers was a representative voice. Many Americans, some card-carrying Christians among them, are likewise distressed by the flood of immigrants crossing into the U.S. from the south. Thankfully, church leaders of all stripes are standing up to speak in behalf of those children. Whose voices will carry the day?
This may be a kairos moment for Americans in general and for American Christians in particular. Kairos is one of the two Greek words for “time.” Kairos means “the right time” or an “urgent time”: the time for the harvest, for example, or the time for the birth of a baby. In the 1980’s an ecumenical group of Christians in South Africa produced what they called “the Kairos Document,” a biblically based statement calling for the end of apartheid and all its violence. Thanks, in part, to their leadership, the South African people rose to the occasion, with a pervasive and passionate commitment to non-violent resistance. It was the beginning of the ending of the apartheid system.
The exodus of the children from Mexico into the U.S. may well be a kairos moment for our country, likewise, particularly for those who are committed to follow Jesus. All over the earth today, refugees are flooding into neighboring areas, desperately. Think not only of the U.S.-Mexico border, but of places like Syria and Gaza. But those are just today’s headlines.
Forces are also at work around the globe, driven by climate change, that will before too long produce countless millions of “environmental immigrants,” as well, people like those mostly poor families who live in Bangladesh, who will be driven from their ancestral lands by rising ocean waters.
Ours is indeed a kairos moment, not only politically, as in the case of the children’s exodus, but also ecologically, as in the case of threats to the very lives of millions of the poor of the earth in places like Bangladesh. How will Americans, particularly American Christians, respond to this kairos?
We could pout and then go sit in our gated communities or wherever, making sure not to listen to the daily news too much. We could complain the way that caller did to the Governor of Massachusetts. Call that the Jonah strategy. Jonah pouted when God didn’t destroy Nineveh, the way Jonah wanted God to do (Jonah 4:1-5). So some Americans pout: Why should we have to pay attention to, not to speak of paying to help, all those political and environmental refugees?
But that’s not the way the God whom we know from the pages of the Bible wants things to be. God cares for all the children of this earth, including those living in alien places like Nineveh. God even cares about the animals of Nineveh! (Jonah 4:11). Are we going to pout about the Ninevehs of this world? Maybe even buy a gun or two in order to feel more secure?
St. Paul was faced with this kind of choice. And he was ambivalent about it (Philippians 1:22-24). Frankly, he said, he’d rather depart this stressful life and be with Jesus in the kingdom to come, where he could be at home, once and for all, and not have to face up to all the stresses and strains of his ministry: prison, persecution, ship-wrecks, church members fighting with one another. But, notwithstanding the ambivalence, Paul knew who he was, one who had been called to take up his cross and follow Jesus. (Philippians 1:21)
What does “dying with Christ” mean for those of us American Christians who live relatively comfortable, relatively secure and well fed, well cared-for lives? What is our kairos moment saying to us? How will we take to heart the plight of millions of political and environmental refugees today and in the years to come? What sacrifices are we prepared to make? How are we to take up our crosses, in this respect?
Are we ready to sacrifice time and resources so we can rally around our church leaders who are calling our whole society to love and care for the refugees at our borders, particularly the children among them? Are we ready to sacrifice our sometimes anxious sense of security, by welcoming refugees into our own communities and congregations? Are we ready to risk disapproval from our neighbors, by vociferously raising the issues posed by climate change or by passionately speaking out in behalf of those animals suffering the tortures of industrial farming?
But to do that, to be ready even to think about sacrificing ourselves, taking up our crosses, we’ve probably got to deal first with an inner agenda. And that may be the most difficult thing of all.
Many of us have borne the heat and burden of the day. We’ve been working long and hard, like our parents and maybe our grandparents before us (That our grandparents were poor immigrants from Germany or Sweden or Ireland is another matter; Worth thinking about, though). Why should we share our land and our resources and our economy and the fruits of our labors with all these latecomers flooding across our borders? Why should we have to change our way of life so that poor Bangladeshi children won’t be driven from their homes into even deeper poverty and social insecurity by rising waters?
Jesus has another take on these matters. Those laborers who came to work in the vineyard at the end of the day were paid the same wages as those who had born the heat and burden of the day! (Mt 29:9) That’s why those who worked all day of course grumbled, (Matthew 20:10-11) like the woman talking to the Governor of Massachusetts. But Jesus has a simple answer to such inner discontent on the part of those who’ve worked so hard. God is a generous God! God cares for everybody! So we all are free to do the same!
Are we ready to make that inner change, to take the generosity of God to heart and to go and do likewise? And to sing along the way, praising the generosity of God? Singing with the Psalmist: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:8f). Isn’t the time—the Kairos—at hand now, for all of us to sing this song, praising the generosity of God, both in word and in deed?
For more information about advocacy opportunities in behalf of refugees, see the website of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
Originally written by Paul Satmire in 2014.