Holy people are holy people – regardless of their faith. I set aside a little time yesterday to go to a Catholic mass. A little late in the organizational effort, I nevertheless made the 6 pm acoustic guitar mass which was admittedly supposed to be for teenagers, but there were also adults in the group with their kids, no doubt making everyone feel awkward at that age. The church was surprisingly full for a Sunday evening mass (maybe 350 or so people), especially for a Labor day weekend. I am sure that many were there for the same reason I was – to remember Mother Teresa who was honored as a saint today.
So, what makes her special? Under excruciatingly difficult circumstances, she served the poor and the sick, wholeheartedly, without misgivings (not a tear, as she put it). It’s as simple as that – she came to be an angel to those who have nothing.
I listened to the priest with his familiar passages on not serving 2 masters, relinquishing everything including family, and realized how much they give up to serve G_d. So, although I have my theological misgivings about who Jesus was, I yet understand that these are holy men, and that Mother Teresa was a very holy person. And my teenage godson is Catholic. I took a pledge to help to raise him that way. And I stick to it. It is the faith of his parents, and although I don’t understand parts of it, I believe the family connection to be more important to him than any theological reservations he might have.
The parashat Saturday (Re’eh) had some strong themes in it. It is no accident that it occurs at the beginning of elul. The foundations of a socialist ethic can be interpreted in the portion – we are not to let anyone in our community fall too far behind. Although slavery is allowed within the community (indeed both Moses and Jacob worked as slaves to earn their wives), after 7 years, the slave is to be offered freedom and, if he or she chooses to leave, is to leave with resources.
I set aside the slavery question for a moment to consider, what for me, is the more problematic section of this parashat – the question of religious intolerance. Moses enjoins those about to enter the promised land that they are not to explore other religions, not to tolerate them in their midst, nor tolerate anyone among their family who does worship in other ways. In spite of the fact that this is the month of elul, I cannot simply gloss over this issue in the interest of peace. I understand that Jews have been subjected to a formidable proselytizing force for centuries – that this is and has been often disrespectful, many among the other side believing that Jewish lives are at stake over this belief. So, my intention was clear in this action. On this issue, as much as I would like to revise these intolerant family-rupturing hurtful words out of the Torah, I leave it alone for historical sake. To remember. The Torah is a living document for me, and we strive to find its relevance in today’s world, beyond merely history. The words certainly don’t mean for me, purge the community of everyone who enters another house of worship to understand the commonality of the worship experience among faiths. To me, they mean “Be Jewish in the other house of worship in spite of the beliefs of those around you. Be strong in your faith.”
So, on this text, I am reform. Tolerant of other faiths. I hesitated to go to a conservative synagogue this week. These words hurt too much. But then I did, and I was very impressioned by the fact that the Rabbi said that a book and words (even holy ones) cannot be held to a higher importance than lives. So, as I prepare for the elul workshop on repairing relations and the world at the conservative synagogue, anticipating some exhortation against interfaith efforts, I’m ok with where I stand on that issue. Peace matters, not just within the Jewish community, but also among those of other faiths. And I understand a little, how some Blacks must feel about purging history of idols that advocated for racial supremacy. We want to be able to respect our history. In the end, someone like Mother Teresa, who claimed to have experienced the utter absence of G_d in her life in her late years, who nevertheless maintained her purpose in life considering this absence as the abandonment that Jesus felt on the cross, teaches us to be humble even about faith. Would that Jesus had never had to be killed “for our sins.” We owe our fellow human beings the dignity of respect for life – and for that, I am grateful that my godson is Catholic. May he always be trusted to respect and defend the life that wants to live. May that be his community identification of value.