A core theme of the traditional lectionary Gospel passages throughout Lent is the casting out of sin for the healing of the soul. We heard in Lent 1 about the blind man Our Lord healed as he set out on his journey towards Jerusalem, then in Lent 2 about the Canaanite woman whose daughter was healed by her faith. We were invited with the blind man to open the eyes of our souls, and with the woman to see that the healing Christ offers is for all people, regardless of race, sex or status.
Now, on the Third Sunday of Lent, the Divine Master equates sin with disunity and conflict, the Satanic “kingdom divided;” conversely, his healing signifies unity and solidarity in an undivided heavenly kingdom.
There are many forces nowadays seeking to divide humanity: people who want to set generation against generation, sex against sex, class against class, race against race – and even, it seems, healthy against sick. There does seem to be an attitude about the Coronavirus pandemic which says that since it only affects the weak and elderly, the rest of us don’t need to worry too much.
If you’re troubled by this way of thinking, it’s because of the Christian history of European thought. There is absolutely nothing “natural” about caring for the weak and the vulnerable. In fact, ancient Romans, Greeks, the Mongol Empire, and even some societies existing today, would laugh at the idea. Nature shows, and evolution proves, that the default setting is to let the weak die so that the strong can survive. In Jesus’ time, in the Roman Empire, it was normal to leave disabled babies out to die, to kill off crippled slaves, to look down on the poor and old as burdens, to divorce wives when they were no more use to you. People were shocked to hear him say that the poor, the weak, the lame, the lepers, women, foreigners – that these people were blessed by God and would inherit the earth; that we should care for them. Surely, they thought, that would only weaken the Empire.
The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche agreed, calling Christianity a “slave morality” which impedes the evolutionary progress of the human race. Human rights, he thought, were just a way for the weak to drag the strong down. Inspired by these ideas, both Fascists and Communists alike imposed strict eugenic policies, trying to put Darwinian evolutionary science into a new political reality where the weak would be eradicated so that a strong new race could thrive in a brave new world.
It is questionable whether Christian morality can survive without the Christian religion. If God really did not side with the outcast and vulnerable, did not become slave to all, did not die as a criminal on the Cross; if this is not the true nature of reality, then what is to stop us from returning to the worship of power and strength alone? How can we dare trying to impose our ideas of human rights on other nations if ultimately, they are not grounded in any ultimate truth, but are just something that Europeans have made up? How does enforcing these rights by economic and military might differ from the bad old days of Empire and forcing religion on our colonies? Isn’t this just a recipe for even more division, one strong man overpowering another?
There are powerful people who benefit from dividing us, from breaking up society and encouraging us to see ourselves as isolated individuals. There is nothing neutral or natural in believing that every person is valuable and that we especially have a duty to protect the weak; that unity and harmony are better than divisive, every man for himself, survival-of-the-fittest power struggles. Yet our Divine Master wants to open our eyes to an underlying supernatural order more real than the natural order, where unity, harmony, and most of all love offer healing from from evil, sin and death.