This Sunday is about midway between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It also is the Sunday we often use to recognize those who are graduating. Jesus (Luke 7:11-17) and Elijah (I Kings 17) both raise from death the only child of a widow. Jesus, we are told, has compassion. He has compassion on all of us, but one assumes that why it was mentioned in this circumstance is because the widow’s economic survival and status in the community is dependent upon her son. Many parents live vicariously through their children, but we have to go back several generations to hear what it is like to depend upon your children to keep you from poverty — that is — to provide a home for you when you are old, to work the family farm, to carry on the family name, to immigrate to a better land and send back needed cash, or, and think specifically of your graduates here, to be the one who is first to get a real education. Imagine a time when children weren’t optional.
The recent outbreak of Zika has brought to mind the apocalyptic novels of P.D.James (The Children of Men) and others, where the next generation is lost. Humanity faces extinction, and suddenly we all realize that children aren’t optional. 100 leading scientists and the World Health Organization have urged the Olympic Committee to postpone or move the summer games. The only response the Olympic Committee has made so far, has been a callous disregard for life. I admit that back in the winter, when the news first broke about the outbreak in Brazil, I thought it reasonable to urge those women hoped to be pregnant to not attend. Today, contraception makes the timing of children optional, right? And then the word came that Zika could be transmitted sexually — it is blood borne and has other avenues of spreading than just this one type of mosquito. We face the apocalyptic reality that the fear of Zika may lead to a childless decade in many countries around the world. Let alone, the disabilities and needless deaths caused to children whose parents were unnecessarily exposed to the disease.
The truth is, while we love our own children and grandchildren, we don’t always show the same concern for the children of others. Our own financial wellbeing or happiness isn’t tied to the next generation. We can conveniently consider the children of strangers are considered to be optional. This can be read in the daily newspaper: how are immigration issues discussed? Are we reluctant to invest in our schools, in affordable higher education for all, in the elimination of childhood poverty? For that matter, why can’t we insist that all gun owners put childproof locks on their weapons?
Compassion is a choice. Spiritual growth is impossible without it. I am not nostalgic for the days when children were an economic necessity. Further, I think respecting each woman’s personal reproductive choices is a key component of a compassionate society. I am, however, struck by how the church has stood by mute, as our society has abandoned the next generation.
For more on Elijah and the Widow see: http://billkemp.info/content/please-dont-tell-story and http://billkemp.info/content/pancakes-every-day