The recent mid-term elections are over. The campaign rhetoric is done, the back-slapping of the winners has died down as surely as the campaign posters of the losers have disappeared from the roadsides and front lawns of supporters. Dissection of the electoral process has pretty much ended and now comes the period where the work has to begin.
Reading the lesson from James this morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on the election through James’s lens. What I saw in the last electoral process was a combination of what James was talking about — the choosing of the rich to the detriment of the poor, disenfranchisement of people who should have had the right to vote but who were denied it, and promises to further shut down or cripple programs designed to help the neediest in our society. To say it is somewhat disheartening is a bit of an understatement; it is more like a feeling that the collapse of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to what is coming for us.
Everybody has ideas and beliefs that firmly endorse and for which they stand. Be it a favorite color, drink, book, fashion designer or whatever, there are things we like and things we definitely don’t. Usually, though, choices of colors or drinks or designers won’t affect the rest of the world, unlike choices between political ideologies or religious beliefs. Those two things have caused a world of hurt for millennia and it hasn’t stopped.
Even when it comes to the Bible we have parts we like and take very seriously and other parts we ignore or pay lip service only. There are lots of passages in both testaments about taking care of others — the poor, widows, orphans, prisoners, the hungry, the sick, the dying — but nothing about “Me first, then maybe somebody else if there’s any left over.” Is salvation about saying the right words once and then going on as usual, or does it involve a change in thought and behavior? Is grace only for the rich who contribute liberally to the church but not much if any to outside organizations who tend to the poor and oppressed elsewhere? Is our giving tinged with a bit of “There but for the grace of God go I” or is it a matter of image, our image in the eyes of others who are watching us?
Then there’s that tricky thing called mercy. We thoroughly expect mercy to be extended to us, but are we as careful to extend it to others? What about to those of a different race, religion or orientation? What about to those who may not dress as well or whose vehicle is older, shabbier and of a cheaper brand? Do we value people based on their income or their humanity, something we all share?
What would Jesus do? He never put himself first and I don’t think he expects us to do it either. When Jesus spoke the parable of the lost sheep, I don’t think he had in mind that the one sheep represented the rich while the ninety-nine were the poor and even middle-class. But then, maybe that one lost sheep needs the shepherding because it is determined to go its own way while the ninety-nine stay together for mutual help and support.
We can hold on to the hope that eventually mercy will overcome judgment, but it’s for sure that it probably isn’t going to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, it might be a good thing to extend mercy to those with whom we come in contact who may have experienced a dearth of it. One person doing one small act of charity or mercy may not change the world but it may change another person. What if that were multiplied by 10 or 100 or even 1000 small acts? Like ripples in a pool, mercy could spread outwards and help change what one person surely could not.
It’s worth a shot. Maybe in the next election mercy could be on the ballot?