3 Pentecost

The Rev. Noel Bordador

One of the controversial issues facing our nation is that of comprehensive immigration reform, especially what to do with undocumented immigrants. There are many arguments on both sides – those who argue in favor of restrictive immigration laws and those who plead for a more generous response.  This is anything but new.  One of the saddest chapters in US history is to found in what happened one hundred thirty years ago when Congress passed a bill called the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and signed into law by the then President Chester Arthur. It forbade the immigration of Chinese for ten years but through subsequent laws, the prohibition of Chinese immigration extended so that it lasted for more than sixty years. The passage of this law was was preceded by decades of anti-Chinese racism. The main reason put forward was that the importation of cheap laborers would mean that the Chinese would steal jobs from the US citizens, and it would drive down the salary of white laborers. But this economic reason was bolstered by other reasons that demonized the Chinese.  Chinese were seen as  threat to the physical health of the Americans for they would bring in various diseases, like leprosy. Chinese, many argued, were also a moral threat.  Chinese immigrants were, by and large, viewed as a people prone to crime and vices, such as the sins of gambling and drinking. Since most Chinese were not Christians, their pagan religion allowed and encouraged the sin of idolatry- the worship of their idol gods. Large scale immigration of male Chinese laborers would mean an increase in prostitution. And, the possibility of an intimate domestic relationship between the “yellow” Chinese and a “white” American would mean diluting the purity of the White race. And the reasons went on and on.

And so not surprisingly,  the passage of this law saw an increase in violence towards the Chinese, violence that also resulted in not so a few number of deaths.  Soon to follow was the exclusion of the Japanese, the Filipinos and other Asians. For many Americans, the immigration of Asians constituted a “yellow peril,” a “yellow terror” that there was often a call for their exclusion not only by law, but also by force. Asians were once excluded from these United States because others thought of us as the “wrong” kind of people they to associate and live with.

In the Gospel story today, we heard of a confrontation between a host and his guest. Simon invited Jesus to a banquet at his house and Jesus accepted. Then a woman appeared almost from nowhere and crashed the party. She came around to where Jesus was and began to anoint his feet with an expensive perfume, and with her tears and kisses, and wiped them with her long hair. Simon criticized Jesus for associating with a woman who Luke described as a “hamarotolos” that is, “sinner.” Now many people have speculated what her sin was, but most have concluded that she was either a prostitute or an adulterer. However, the Gospel does not say that at all. The word “sinner” could mean many things in the time of Jesus and some of the acts that were considered a sin then would not be considered a sin nowadays. For instance, in Jesus’ time, having some sort of an illness or disability would render one a “sinner.” Or being engaged in some kind of work like delivering babies, weaving and dyeing clothes, caring for animals, making gold jewelry, working as a bathroom janitor, or even a barber or beautician would open one to the charge of moral impurity and sin. Or, consistent contact and association with non-Jews would render one a sinner. You get the point- her sin need not be so dramatic or so serious. Luke was vague since the nature of the woman’s sin was not his focus, but Simon’s reaction. Simon was scandalized that this sinner, this woman had the nerve and the audacity to crash his party for Jesus. She was an unwanted guest. She was not the kind of person Simon wants to include in his circle of friends and acquaintances. She was to be excluded. She was the wrong person to be around with.

But, more scandalous to Simon was that Jesus, a religious and spiritual teacher of good repute would allow this “sinner” to associate with him, for by associating with someone unclean rendered Jesus also unclean. Therefore, Simon concluded that Jesus was not really a man of God, and so dismissed jesus in the secret of his heart.         

But Jesus read the critical thoughts and feelings of Simon towards Jesus and the woman. Jesus asked the question to Simon: “Do you see this woman?” (v. 44) It was a rather pointed question because what Jesus was really saying was that Simon was truly blinded by his own prejudice which made Simon only see someone undesirable, someone worthy of rejection and exclusion. Opposite Simon, Jesus saw someone who was not to be despised and hated and excluded, but someone beautiful, someone so capable of great deeds of generosity, hospitality and love.

It is part of our human predicament, of our sinful human condition to suffer from blindness of prejudice for whatever reason. We categorize people between those we find to be acceptable and people we find objectionable, and we try to exclude the unacceptable from our presence and often even justify such exclusion by trying to see the other people worse than they are, sometimes, demonizing them.

The Church’s Eucharist is Jesus’ banquet to which all of us have been invited. For Jesus, there is room for everyone- saint and sinner-  at his banquet, at his table, just as he made room for that unnamed woman at Simon’s banquet table. Here we gather at the Lord’s Table, often reminded that we who are invited to eat and drink with the Lord do so by sitting side by side with those we delight in associating with and, with others who we rather not because we find them to be the wrong kind of people to associate with for whatever our reasons be.

This week is a bit rough and painful for the Episcopal Church as the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to remove Episcopalians from Anglican committees that deal with dialogues with other Christian churches, and matters of doctrine because we did not honor what was asked of us previously, that is, to stop the consecration of gay bishops. The future is unclear for us as people from other parts of the Anglican Communion continue to call for our expulsion, and there is that possibility or at least, diminish our participation in the Communion. This is indeed sad because part of our tradition as Anglicans started with the Queen Elizabeth I Tudor in her desire to be “comprehensive” that is, to use a current buzzword “inclusive” where no one is to be excluded. In Elizabeth's time, Catholics and Protestants were at each other’s throat, killing each other for each were utterly convinced that the other side was evil. The Protestant Elizabeth herself was hunted by her cousin, the Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary who preceded Elizabeth to the throne. When Elizabeth ascended the throne after Mary’s death, she was obviously anxious to maintain peace between Catholics and Protestants. When she published her version of Book of Common Prayer in 1559, it sought to incorporate the best of Catholic and Protestant religious thought. There is an anecdote that someone told the Queen that despite her best efforts, her new Prayer Book would not satisfy either the Catholics or Protestants, to which she replied that what matter to her was not so much whether the Prayer Book would fully satisfy the Catholics and the Protestants but that the warring parties, the two who consider one another as enemies, would use one Book of worship and come face to face with each at the Lord’s Table, without excluding each other, and pray together. Because only then- at the Lord’s Table- can there be a possibility of being healed of our prejudice.