As we approach the seventh station on the Good Friday Ecumenical Prayer, the towering Melbourne City Hall is coming into view. As we walk and pray, the heated debate over the role of government plays out across the nation. Some people are screaming and yelling for less government. I have even noticed a change of attitude. If you were an educator or public servant, some are prone to remark that you lived off the people, almost as if you were on the dole. Everyone wants to pay less in taxes and claims they want less in government; however, just try cutting something they hold dear. The Postal Service has backed off on its cost savings plan to end Saturday delivery. Observe what happens when someone proposes to cut a military/defense facility to reduce a bloated defense budget in their geographical area. Cut something in the next state over but not in my backyard.
As Christians we are called to an understanding of government that goes beyond the best possible written constitution. Jim Wallis’ new book, On God’s Side, is a powerful reminder that government is about the common good. The role of government is to make sure that people have what they need to enjoy the bounty of God’s creation. In a recent discussion at the pool with a neighbor, I said, “Every human person has the right to food, clothing, shelter, health care and education.” The response stunned me, “Yes, if they can afford it.” This Ayn Rand viewpoint totally ignores the fact that the wealthy and the greedy, along with all of us to some extent, are responsible for the plight of the poor. Our lifestyles and social and political policies keep people trapped in poverty so the few can enjoy more.
Wallis writes in the Preface:
For Christians the idea of the common good derives from Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbor—including “the least of these”—which is still the most transformational social ethic the world has ever seen.
. . .
The common good welcomes all the “tribes” into God’s beloved community, and our social behavior and political policies must show that. (xii)
The Good Friday Walk is all about raising consciousness of the common good—making the reign of God real on earth now. The Opening Prayer at City Hall praises those in government who are sensitive to the common good and challenges others to become more sensitive:
Lord Jesus, we are searching for you. Where are you suffering today?
All: Look for me among many of the powerful and prominent who live in relative opulence and affluence in light of how difficult they make it for the poor. Look for me among all those who are complacent to the plight of the poor and indifferent to their struggles. Look for me among those who support the political systems and structures that widen the distance between those who have and those who have not. Look for me among those who are a part of the system yet sympathetic to the poor. Look for me in places where the faithful struggle against the powers of the world, calling their leaders to a Gospel response of justice and relief for the poor. Seek me there and you shall find me.
The Concluding Prayer is spot on:
Jesus, you died a brutal death like so many before you since you dared to mount a challenge to unfettered power.
But your death—your seeming defeat—became your glory.
On the day of your passion and death, which we commemorate today.
You stood fearlessly before the authorities
Of the Temple and Roman Empire,
Holding fast to the mission bestowed on you by your Father,
Let us trust in the light of your glory as we continue to challenge leaders—
Local, national, and international—
To uphold the dignity of each person
No matter how poor or how voiceless or how small,
To uphold the common good
No matter how challenging
And to respond with charity and justice
To the needs of the most vulnerable among us,
Rather than give in to the demands of self-serving interests.
Strengthen the resolve of those working within the system who are sympathetic to your ways,
So that their voices of reason and concern may be heard
And the fruit of their labor might be an end to unjust systems and structures
That create the misery of poverty and oppression.
Though our efforts sometimes seem doomed to failure
And we often lose heart, Lord,
Keep us steadfast and afire with love for you and the poor and lost ones.
Help us “stand tall in your strength.”
And let us hope in your way and in the knowledge your kingdom is coming!
And so together we pray,
Lord Jesus, slain and resurrected, hear our prayer for the poor.