“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Later this week we will celebrate the Fourth of July for the 242nd time. I once laid eyes on the actual Declaration of Independence. It was at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It was impressive to be that close to a document that world changing.
When Thomas Jefferson drafted this document, he was up-ending the status quo. He was offering a vision that would change the world, and he began by justifying this revolution by referring to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
He was throwing out the old arguments that claimed some people were superior to others and that nature and nature’s God demanded that there be rulers and the ruled, that there be a select few people whose thoughts, actions and lives meant more than the mob of the ordinary.
In committee, some of Jefferson’s original thoughts were toned down a bit. I think we’re all familiar with the phrase “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” but Jefferson had written originally: “from that equal creation they derive rights, inherent and inalienable.”
He had first written that our fundamental human rights are “inherent” because of our equality! These newly formed United States were talking about revolution, not only with weapons and war, but with minds.
Equality up until 1776 was only a philosopher’s dream. July 4th made it real. We didn’t and we don’t always live up to our July Fourth ideal of equality, but it’s there. We had to go through a lot of bumps and bruises, and more occasions of “how the mighty have fallen” for the sake of equality.
We had to fight a Civil War for equality. Women had to protest for equality. And today there is less equality than in years past because the country is being divided into rich and poor, powerful and powerless. That’s just a fact of the numbers. The wealth divide has increased among us and is not slowing down. And wealth seems to grant voice.
I think in this context of still fighting for equality we should reconsider today’s Gospel reading. A man of power and voice begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus is not opposed to this man because of his status of power any more than Jesus would be opposed to someone else because of their status as powerless.
With the crowd pushing and tugging and bumping into each other, somehow a sickly woman gets close enough to Jesus to reach out touch the hem of His clothing. She believes that even this act can heal her. And it does! Jesus feels that something has happened and stops in His tracks. He searches the crowd for the one who has been healed.
Finally, the terrified woman comes forward with her story. She is one of the powerless and voiceless. She was scared by what she had done. Jesus was on the way to the home of a powerful man and she had stopped Him in His tracks. Surely words would follow. Instead, Jesus commends her for her faith.
In other words, Jesus doesn’t belong to the rich and powerful, nor does Jesus belong to the poor and outcast. Jesus is God’s living statement of equality. We all matter to God. We are all “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.”
Long before the Declaration of Independence, Jesus was setting an example of equality. On the Fourth of July we can celebrate the fact that we listened to His gospel and that we defined ourselves by that same virtue of equality.
But anniversaries, even the 242nd of them, calls us to not only celebrate, but to remember and to reaffirm. Equality, said Jefferson, and says the Declaration, is not granted by governments to the ones it governs. Equality is granted by God to all people. It is inherent. It is inalienable. It’s a part of us and it’s something that can’t be separated from us without making us less than fully human.
It took us 87 anniversaries of July 4th to realize that African slaves were really African-Americans, and that battle for equality still continues. It took us 144 anniversaries to realize that women are part of “all men are created equal” so that they could finally vote, but again, that battle for equality still continues as well.
And since we profess in the Declaration of Independence that equality is from God, then equality is not defined by being an American. Equality belongs to everyone, says Jesus in today’s Gospel and so too says the Declaration of Independence.
With this in mind, whatever our stance on immigration, we need to keep in mind this fundamental equality that we profess as Christians and as Americans. Whatever our stance on immigration, there is no room for a mean-spiritedness towards others in this discussion, especially toward the powerless and the voiceless. Compassion is called for because we believe as Christians and Americans that all are created equal.
As we get ready to celebrate the Fourth of July, let us also remind ourselves why we celebrate. It’s not only about our independence. It’s about that revolutionary idea of inherent, inalienable, universal human equality.
And in that spirit, let us now prepare to approach the Communion Table where all are welcome as equal in the sight of our Saviour. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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