Reflection for Sunday – October 15, 2016
Readings: Exodus 17:8-13; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18: 1-8
Preacher: Brigit Hurley
“Slow and steady wins the race” seems to be the message of today’s readings. Moses raises his arms up tirelessly – and beyond, as he relies on others to hold his arms up – for as long as it takes to assure the Israelites’ victory in battle. In the Gospel reading, the persistent widow bring her case before the judge day after day despite his repeated dismissal, until finally he grants her justice out of sheer frustration. In both cases, their patience is rewarded.
This is a powerful message for us on this 6th annual Children’s Interfaith Weekend, when congregations from many faiths throughout Monroe County and around the United States acknowledge the universal mandate of all traditions to care for the poor and vulnerable, especially children. People of faith have long pursued justice for children, who have no voice or power in the political process.
Persistence and tirelessness have been the engines of social change that have saved children’s lives throughout history – bringing children out of dangerous factory work in the early 20th century with the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. And even earlier in 1875, when neighbors of an abused little girl named Mary Ellen sought help for her with no success until they appealed to Henry Bergh, the man who founded the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Out of their hard work came the nation’s first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in New York City, and shortly after that its second chapter in Rochester (which is still in operation today), where Mary Ellen was sent to be raised in happier circumstances.
Forgive me, then, for admitting that my patience with regard to Rochester’s children is wearing thin.
Chilean Nobel laureate Gabriela Mistral said, “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow.’ His name is today.”
Today is the day that too many infants in Rochester will lack interaction, missing opportunities to build the very architecture of their brains as an average of 700 new neuron connections are formed each second.
Today is the day that too many young children under age 5 in Rochester will not be engaged in activities that ignite their natural curiosity – during a time when 75 percent of brain growth, and 85 percent of intellect, personality, and social skills are developing.
And today is the day that too many teens will skip school or drop out entirely, having been told in any number of ways that their lives are not worth investing in.
In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius instructs us to pray with our imaginations, contemplating Gospel scenes as though we are present, even to the point of taking on a role in the story. Imagine you are the judge in today’s reading. A widow who perhaps has been unjustly discarded by her family and left penniless appears before you every day. She is annoying. She is flouting the widely known practice of using connections or bribery to gain your attention and favor. By making her appeal based on the merits of her case alone, she undermines the well-established system through which justice is dispensed in your court.
How many days would it take for us to decide in her favor? Would it be done out of sheer frustration, or out of a desire to see justice achieved? How urgent would her case have to be to prompt us to act boldly, as Henry Bergh and Mary Ellen’s neighbors did, to change systems that perpetuated injustice against the powerless?
I hope and pray we would act swiftly to do the right thing, to respond to the “fierce urgency of now,” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring words call us to do:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”