Spring is here! Seeing some of the cacti in our yard come alive with beautiful blossoms brings a feeling of uplift, hope, and even momentary joy.
Judaism and Christianity mark this time of nature’s reawakening with observances that relate to rebirth and freedom. Jews observe the holiday of Passover, which commemorates the Israelite journey from slavery to freedom. According to local clergy colleagues, Christians, when observing Easter, see the passage from slavery to liberation "in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the transition from sin and death to life abundant (now and eternally)."
In Judaism, a 2000 year-old statement from the rabbis characterizes the essence of Passover: “In every generation, we should look upon ourselves as if WE went free from Egypt.” Passover challenges each person to personally respond to the plight of anyone who faces oppression, persecution, and a lack of support from the greater community. In the story of Passover, the Israelites decried the arrogance of the Pharaoh, who viewed himself as a divine figure. Given his actions, it was apparent that the Pharaoh had relinquished any sense of human consideration, decency and empathy.
The importance of these values was emphasized in one of the American Values/Religious Voices letters last month. On March 6, Amir Hussain, Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, shared three religious texts that call on people to demonstrate a true concern for their fellow human beings. He cited the passage from the book of Exodus (Chapter 23) which declared, “You shall not oppress a stranger. You know the feelings of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Professor Hussain explained that a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 25) further strengthened that message: “…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
In addition, Professor Hussain shared a teaching from the Qur’an which expressed similar principles: “Serve God and do not associate anything with God, and be good your parents, the near of kin, the orphans, the needy, the neighbor who is near and the neighbor who is farther away, the companion by your side, and the traveler….Surely God does not love the one who is proud, boastful” (Qur’an 4:36).”
Several discussion groups that studied this letter were puzzled by the statement, “Serve God and do not associate anything with God.” My initial interpretation was that, if we think of ourselves as serving God, we should not see ourselves as holier or better than anyone else. I took this passage to members of the local Muslim community for further discussion. One said that it means that we should be sure that our good deeds are performed for their own sake, and not for an anticipated reward of praise from others, position or pride. Another community member commented that the final part of the Qur’an verse reminds people not to be overtly proud or boastful just because they are doing what they consider to be God’s work. We should perform acts of goodness for their own sake and for the benefit of others.
As nature engages in its annual rebirth, may our own souls be reborn into an approach of personal humility, an appreciation of humanity and the earth itself, and a sense of how serving our community can bring hope and healing to the world.