by Phil Morice Brubaker
2 Chronicles 29:6,17 – For our ancestors have been unfaithful and have done what was evil in the sight of the Lord our God; they have forsaken him, and have turned away their faces from the dwelling of the Lord, and turned their backs. … They began to sanctify [the Temple] on the first day of the first month, … and on the sixteenth day of the first month they finished.
I’ve always been impressed with the rituals that the ancient Hebrews had for dealing with a legacy of unfaithfulness in a communal way. No one complains “That happened long ago; get over it,” or “It wasn’t my ancestors – I’m an Ephraimite.” It was understood that unfaithfulness by one’s neighbors and ancestors affects the entire community, and so the community takes responsibility to restore things to rights. They spent 16 days cleaning out the Temple on this occasion.
How far we are from such an understand of communal responsibility! The cult of individual responsibility takes us far from the wisdom of Martin Luther King when he wrote:
“Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (“Letter from a Birmingham County Jail“)
It will take many rituals of community repentance and restoration to right the injustices done to communities of color over the centuries. Responsibility isn’t just for the Darren Wilsons and George Zimmermans, the white mob of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, or enslavers and their descendants. It is all of us. And things cannot be put fully right as long as there are those who refuse to take responsibility as part of the “inescapable network of mutuality.”
And what’s great about mutuality, is that it’s not just about the awful things that we need to repent for. The wonderful things that we celebrate affect us all, too.
Jesus, we too easily call for personal responsibility when it is convenient for us and lets us off the hook. Remind us daily of our mutuality, our communion across time and space and culture, with all those sharing this planet. Amen.
Phil Morice Brubaker is coordinator and trainer with Roots of Justice.