Fr. Glenn: The Prescience Of Rodney King

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

Well … this weekend the government “shut down”—the perennial threat tactic when the two major parties can’t agree (Can’t agree?! Gee, what a surprise). The news thereafter becomes a blame game shouting match … accusations a’flyin’… and weariness for all of us on the receiving end of the news. It seems that whatever one party proposes, the other party feels duty-bound to oppose, lest the first party get the least particle of political benefit. Perhaps if the first thing to “shut down” was Congress’ salary … and ability to receive contributions?

And yet politicians are in many ways reflecting societal behavior as we trade insults and accusations on social media, protected by the electronic abyss separating perp and victim. This has become much the nature of modern politics, I suppose, but much lamented is the accompanying lack of graciousness. But if one reads the history of politics in this nation, dialogue often gets quite nasty and dishonest, reminding us of scripture: “…there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9) So we’re seeing nothing particularly new; just quite annoying, and regrettably, so counterproductive.  

I couldn’t help but recall while watching the current political turmoil the 1991 “Rodney King” incident in California in which an African-American driver was beaten severely by several Los Angeles police officers after a high-speed chase. The officers were charged, tried and acquitted, sparking the 1992 riots in that city, which killed 53 and injured more than 2,300 others. During the rage, Mr. King himself appeared on TV and made an impassioned plea to end the violence … the “sound bite” line immortalized as “Can’t we all just get along?”

Oh, Mr. King … would that we could; wouldn’t THAT be wonderful, reminding us of the psalm often quoted in this column: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) But … peace and harmony—the universal and perpetual goal—remains ever elusive, as we demand harmony on our own terms … which is not really harmony at all.  And we will ever remain unharmonious if we as individuals never learn to both give and FORgive. Thus the wisdom of Jesus’ “Love your neighbor as yourself,” for no progress can be made in human relations without the willingness to give of oneself. 

Greed, selfishness … the easiest things in the world, for they are our very basic (and basest) nature and tendency. But to give—charity, forgiveness, kindness and concern—are what raise us above the animal level of basic survival to reflect so much more the image of God. One of the tenets of scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages was that evil does not actually have real existence, but rather evil is the absence of good that ought to be present. So when we fail in charity, goodness, love and other virtue, it is an emptiness of what ought to be … and this is a reason we experience corresponding emptiness in our deepest being when we fail to live in virtue—the “hole in the soul”, as it were.

If we want to rise above that basest nature of ours, we must learn to subdue the flash of immediate passions and seek the higher road. And this is why, if one were to decide to read just a small section of the Bible, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7 is one of the best to choose. In those, Jesus stresses those essentials of charity, giving of oneself, and forgiveness of faults and hurts, without which peace, amity and fellowship cannot—and thus, will not—exist.

What keeps us from these obvious and lauded goods? Pride, of course … the first sin. In Genesis we read that Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the forbidden fruit with the phrase: “…you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5) That temptation to pride has haunted us ever since, because we want each person who dare offend us to be subject to our own “divine” judgment … and yet we are easily dismissive of the many times we ourselves offend.

So, our choice looms clear: continue in bitter pride and animal selfishness and self-interest, and so be a cause of continuing strife in society. Or, rather, conquer pride … cease that slavery to it … and thus be a light to the world, as Jesus calls His disciples to be. Be part of the problem, or be part of the solution.

Yes, Mr. King, we all CAN get along … but only through sacrifice. That learning to swallow pride takes a bit of effort—a lifelong exercise in the humility, which is anathema to what society—despite its hollow claims to the contrary—approves. But for we Christians, humility is not an option; it is a duty … for He who is our model, example and Lord is the very image of that great and divine virtue.

Weariness inevitably accompanies strife—whether that strife be the public forum, at work or in our own personal relationships. Yet few will dare to step out of the prison of bitterness of selfish pride. Is it not better to unlock the prison door, submit oneself to goodness, and hear Jesus’ Word: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)