Monday, October 31, 2011

Excommunicated OR Dismissed People (Luke 4:18-19, John 16:2-4)

If you watch closely, you can observe an alarming thing about human nature. The thing to notice is how readily and easily people dismiss other people. We overlook them, look beyond them, look around them, and refuse to look at them as they are, or just never see them. Or, seeing them, we dismiss or excommunicated them as non-essential or unnecessary.

Those of us who seek to follow the way of Jesus Christ, have much to learn about ourselves in regard to dismissed (excommunicated) people. Have we stopped to consider how deeply dismissing people affects us all? Have we taken into full account the response and call of Jesus Christ to dismissed persons? Could it be that our salvation, both here and hereafter is wrapped up in how we respond to the strangers, the outcasts, the foreigners – any of “those” people who invade our private spaces, interrupt our personal agendas, and un-settle our comfort zones?

I don’t like to think of myself as a dismissing person, as a discriminating person. Nor do I like to think of my friends, or country, or fellow humanity as dismissers of people; nor of the Church in which I serve. However, I am convinced we all, on a day-to-day basis, engage in acts of dismissal and prejudging.

Recently, I asked a friend about her nephew, an artist, a man I knew to be emotionally fragile and a concern of my friend’s family for several years. I simply asked, “How is he doing?” I was not at all prepared for what I heard. “Sam is so messed up,” she said. “He is a basket case. He can’t even hold a job. You should see his paintings! They’re so out of it. It’s like his insides exploded on the canvas. What a waste of talent!”
It’s astonishing that we dismiss people so easily. As if, with a wave of a hand, a person could be swept away. As if to say, “You don’t matter.”

If people fall into one of our stereotyped categories, they are subject to being dismissed – old, poor, dumb, homeless, mentally ill, AIDS-infected, yuppie, middle class. A past president of the United States unfairly dismissed everyone receiving welfare assistance as “a faceless mass waiting for a handout.”

We can be subtle and “socially acceptable” in dismissal. Consider a flashing glance, an avoiding turn of the head, silent aggression.

Surely, we ourselves feel dismissed in one way or another, at one time or another. We bear the heavy weight of dismissal of our person, our ideas, our efforts, or our concerns. The basic human need for significance and belonging is denied. In a competitive world looking for finished and marketable products sometimes our good ideas or significant thoughts seen to be swept aside, insignificant, dismissed.   
Why are people dismissed or excommunicated? The following are some reasons –

3.1.  People are bound to be dismissed because, in a consumer economy, people are valued for their purchasing power. Those who have little money or who don’t matter to a particular industry are considered “marginal” or unrelated and irrelevant.

3.2.  People are dismissed because we don’t think they can be fixed. If we don’t think deeply seated personal and social issues can be effectively addressed, then we dismiss – wholesale – entire segments of our local and world populations.

3.3.   We dismiss people when we mis-define them. The only way we can dismiss people is by mis-defining them. As long as Christians simply go along with a primarily economic or humanistic assessment of human life, we will dismiss people.

4.1.  Jesus recognized that many people had been mis-defined and dismissed and excommunicated, and Jesus wants us to know that, He gave His life in ministry to dismissed and outcaste people.
4.2.  Jesus will call His followers to account for how they responded to dismissal persons. According to Matthew 25:31-46, the son of Man’s last public statement will call all people to account for identity with the response to the dismissed and excommunicated, in which Jesus Christ identifies himself, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v.40).

5.1.  Jesus seemed to be making the point that needs to be made today – while it is a common to dismiss people, people cannot be dismissed. Not for their sake, nor for our sake. The number of homeless, mentally ill, illiterate, crime-recorded children living in poverty in the world is staggering. But they are not going away because we get tired of hearing about them on the six o’clock news.

 Dismissal seems to be an attempt to deny the sins and injustices that pervade our world; an attempt to sweep under the carpet the glaring needs that we feel over-whelm us. Dismissed people are symptomatic of a death-driven society.

5.2.  The economic and social cost of dismissing people comes high. Incarceration and so-called rehabilitation runs 20-1 over preventive costs. Yet there is little funding for preventive care, the money is used to build bigger prisons. Dismiss a person today, and you will deal with her or him again at a deeper, more troublesome level.
5.3.  The Spiritual and personal cost of dismissing people comes high. Aside from national and economic costs of dismissing people, there is a personal cost. In dismissing people, we dismiss a part of ourselves. When we turn away from a person, we turn away from ourselves. When we alienate a person, we become alienated from ourselves to a greater degree.

Sociologist Parker Palmer, to whom I am indebted for this insight, makes the following observation (The Company of Strangers, p.66):-  
 By turning away from ‘the least of these’ we re-inforce our fear that someday we will find ourselves in their place, and that others will turn away from us…we reatreat from the stranger because we want to avoid that awfil knowledge of our world, and of our place in it. And as we do so, we create another self-fulfilling prophecy, as we avoid the stranger to avoidbeing reminded of our own isolation, we create a world in which our isolation deepens”

6.1.  Dismissed persons have a saving role in our lives. The Old Testaments are rich with imagery of the saving role of the stranger for the people of God. The writer of Hebrews counseled, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2).
6.2.  There is a surprise gift when we respond to the dismissed persons. Here is the surprise gift of compassion – when we withhold judgment and respond with our heart to the stranger, we receive infinitely more that we can give. Persons we would otherwise dismiss bear keys to opening up and recovering our fearful, hidden self.
6.3.  The point of addressing dismissed persons is the point of identity. We must remember that Jesus did not merely point to or stoop to relieve the dismissed, but identified himself with the sick, the prisoners, the strangers, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt.25:40).
Michael Card, a contemporary Christian musician with a graduate degree in biblical literature, submits his lyrics to the scrutiny of the religion faculty of Vanderbilt University. He tells in his concerts how he wrote the song, “In His Distressing Disguise.” Washing dishes at an inner-city mission in Nashville, Card looked out from the kitchen into the dining area and saw a momentary vision. A mission volunteer and a homeless man were talking to each other. To Card’s eyes, just for a moment, it appeared as if the mission worker became Jesus Christ to the homeless man. At the same time, it appeared as if the homeless man became Jesus to the mission volunteer. That is the solidarity, that is the identity Jesus invites us to embody.    

The Excommunication of President Noynoy Aquino by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is note-worthy (See Excommunication? READ 188 The News Around Eastern Visayas. Leyte Samar Daily Express, Tel.321-4833,,

“Excommunication refers to the exclusion of a person from the community of the church for misconduct. It is the most severe penalty that the Catholic-Church may inflict to an erring member. The consequences that follow if a faithful is excommunicated include that of denying him/her participation in the Holy Mass; deprived of the benefits of the Holy Eucharist and not included anymore in the prayers of the entire Catholic Community during masses and the liturgy.  

It is heartwarming to note that a day after the possible excommunication of the President that hugged the headlines last Friday on the family planning issues aired by a Bishop the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) made a statement that there will be no such threat on President Noynoy Aquino being excommunicated. The CBCP probably realized that it will create more problems among the faithful and for themselves if they do it. One is, if they do that to the President alone they will come out as very selective handing down verdicts.
They know pretty well that many Catholics Christian believers have committed misconduct one way or the other way as members of the church. There are even priests who have sired children a violation of their sacred vows of chastity but continue to serve as pastors of the church. No excommunication proceedings have been initiated. And if the Roman Catholics hierarchy is serious in their delisting of followers because of misconduct as members, the churches will be transformed into ghost houses.”

As I wake up to the fact of the many dismissed people who surround me, and to the wholesale dismissal that runs literally unchecked at every level of society, I am stunned; stunned, but not paralyzed.

Because of the grace of God, there is a way to respond. Here is the place I begin, and this is the place I challenge you to begin, with repentance. Repentance for dismissing people! Repentance for overlooking and closing our eyes in dismissal! Repentance for silently going along with a society that, in its sickness, expends people like junk cars!

Then, to quote John the Baptist, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). Begin to name people and know their stories. Though they may not be numbered in statistics of governments or churches, in Christ they have a name and are beloved to us.

Begin to offer hospitality, which is making room for the stranger in our midst. Allow Jesus to be the Bridge between us as mutual strangers. In His love become friends. Begin to make your personal and spiritual resources, whatever they may be available in redeeming embrace of the dismissed.


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