Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:25-28
Today has been a different kind of 4th of July from past years. No family to cook for as most everyone had other plans. No kids at home to buy fireworks and plan for an evening extravaganza on my parents’ dock. In fact, that dock is for sale along with my parents’ house. They live in a retirement center that offered a noon BBQ so we attended that instead of hosting a cookout at our house.
As I looked around the dining room and saw so many men and women who had lived, and in some cases, fought through two world wars, two Asian wars and possibly middle eastern wars, I thought about how far our country has come in the last decades.
What do those who liberated the concentration camps of Europe think about the migrant internment camps on our southern border? What do Asian Americans who were children during World War II think? Have the pictures of children behind bars brought back the memories and nightmares of their own childhood? Are they grateful that they were never separated from their own parents? Thinking about separation, I wonder what the older generation of our Native Peoples think as they remember the boarding schools, the lessons in learning a new language and the clash of cultures? Or the German Americans who could not speak their native-tongue during two world wars? Who were forced, sometimes at gun point, to buy Liberty bonds as proof of their loyalty. What does the Fourth of July mean to them?
America has always fostered a distrust of the “new guy”, the most recent immigrant, the one seeking a new home and freedom even though only a few years before, the established groups were immigrants themselves. Why do we have such a short memory? Why do we forget how hard it is to leave home for a new place? Why do we fail to recall the fear and desperation that drove us to cross that ocean or border filled with hope only to be spit upon and have doors slammed in our faces?
Does that fear of deprivation drive us to remove the welcome sign once we ourselves have been welcomed? Do we think that there aren’t enough jobs? Not enough food? Not enough places to live? Are we willing to share only the roles that we were once eager to fill until we “bettered” ourselves through education, home loans and savings accounts? Are we greedy?
Or maybe it is simply pride. Now we are too good to help those coming behind us. I think of Paul’s definition of love when he says, “Do not be proud; but be willing to associate with those of low position. Do not be conceited.” Is that the problem?
Are we complacent? Now that we are in the “Land of the Brave” are we content? We don’t need reminders of the problems and poverty of others?
I don’t know the answers, in fact, I have more questions. What I do know that this 4th of July, I don’t feel like celebrating our country. The fireworks are meaningless. The displays of force are not appealing. Sacrifice is on my mind. There was a time when sacrifice was equal to patriotism, not guns or tanks or military parades. Anything else, is just a whitewashed tomb.