The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Matthew 2: 24f.
Preposterous!” one critic said.
“He’s making the men and women in the Twin Towers responsible for their own tragic death,” said another.
“He has to apologize!” another voice was heard to say.
The voice of outrage is directed at Jean Chrétien.
“You cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for the others,” Chrétien said in a CBC interview on the anniversary of 9-11. “And that is what the Western world – not only the Americans, the Western world – has to realize. Because they are human beings, too. And necessarily, we’re looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more.”
Prophetic voices have always been hard to hear. And while there are those who are swift to politicize the event, what is heard here – fresh and unsolicited – is the prophetic voice in the Hebraic tradition. It has all the qualities: it is an indictment of our attitude, it is unpopular, and it is true.
Joe Clark said that Chrétien was obviously being misinterpreted. “There is a direct relation between the roots of terror and the existence of poverty and despair,” Clark said. “I don’t think there’s much disputing that.”
The discomforting words will not stale by the time we put the broccoli on the burner for Thanksgiving dinner.
They will be with us for some time to come. And they will be the cause for reflection, at least for me.
Of all of the seasons, I like the autumn best of all. Fall demonstrates God’s extravagance. The senses are overwhelmed by the beauty of the hardwood palette as leaves beyond reckoning transform the canvass of branches overhead and lawn beneath. Disney cannot compete with the sights and smells and sounds of rustling leaves in the wind and underfoot. The joy of autumn’s sensuality is exhilarating and fresh memories are harvested each fall.
The backdrop of hardwoods frame our favourite road side stands. We visit them to reap the harvest for our families’ board. I don’t plough any fields. I don’t scatter any seed. I don’t hoe, weed, fertilize or even wade out into fields to harvest. Like most of us, the effort I make is from my car door to the road side bins. But what extravagance! Broccoli and cauliflower and squash and potatoes and carrots and beets and… well, there seems to be no end! The bins overflow and my discovery of God’s largess is renewed every autumn.
My selection made, a real satisfaction wells up within me as I drive home, following the river, enjoying the cool air, the splash of colour and my purchase by my side.
As I drove along the road, prophetic words came to mind, in a fresh, personal way. I recalled Jesus’ story you and I know as the parable of the Talents.
I began to feel sheepish – but I knew I was standing with the goats, on the left. My only consolation was that I wasn’t alone. I was in a sizeable herd of goats! We bleated our appeal: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” The kilometres slipped by as I drove my harvest home. Then the answer came, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
I reflected on my neglect as I recalled the scathing words of indictment. This wasn’t a CBC interview. Peter Mansbridge and cameras were nowhere near. I glanced over at the seat where the plastic bags of produce were casually, carelessly stored. They sat in silence as I heard the words again. My negligence was my accuser and I became aware of a discomfort that I could not shake. I reached to turn on the radio. Music would drown out the accuser’s voice. Oh, I have done some charitable acts. There have been many good things I have done… I’m sure. I remember that I once slipped a Loonie in a haggard man’s hand, begging on King Street. I think I did that. I know I did it once in 1999! I remember once taking a grocery bag of tinned goods to the food bank. They weren’t the brands that I prefer; but they were perfectly good! And I hadn’t wasted them!
The vegetables remained beside me, silently, accusingly.
My revelation is that not only is Harvest extravagant, it happens also to be greedy.
Jesus meets us in the moment of extravagance intersected by greed; he shows us the essential character of God, going far beyond generosity. And he confronts us with our own limitations. We can all hear it. The weight of its truth moves us to assess our ethical response to the needs of others. Our response can be uncomfortable. “Preposterous!” we might say, “when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
Copyright © 2002 James T. Irvine
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