Listening to the sisters: The nuns’ bus comes to Philadelphia
The nuns are on a roll. In fact, they rolled into Philadelphia last weekend as part of their “Nuns on the Bus” tour to express their displeasure at Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, which they say would harm the poor. As you may know from reports about such nuns as Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Sister Mary Scullion of Philadelphia, these ladies have developed a certain attachment to impoverished and marginalized people. In their cut-to-the-chase jargon, the nuns say they are “missioned” to stand with people in need.
This syntactic switch of mission from noun to verb reminds me of something Jesus said. I wasn’t there, but I read about it (Luke 10: 25-37).
It seems a big-time scholar of Jewish law asked Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus said, Hey, you’re the lawyer; what does the law say? Love God, love your neighbor, answers the scholar. Fine, Jesus says with a shrug. Do that and you’re in. The lawyer staves off embarrassment by retorting, Well, OK, who is my neighbor?
Jesus responds by telling the Good Samaritan parable: A traveler is robbed, beaten, and left to die. While people like the scholar cross the street to avoid the victim, a wretched Samaritan stops and helps him. Jesus finishes the story by asking, in effect, Who “neighbored” that man in need?
The sisters say they are “missioned” to “neighbor” people who fall on hard times. They go on to say that our government should also do some of that neighboring, or at least not cut the amount of neighboring it does now. If you spend all your time with really poor people, I guess your mind gets a little warped like that.
The Catholic bishops have recently made news by suggesting that the sisters are guilty of radical feminism, insufficient opposition to abortion, and excessive questioning of the bishops’ teaching authority. The Vatican concurrently attacked two scholarly American sisters for their books on theology and morality: Sister Margaret A. Farley, one of the first Catholics to teach at Yale Divinity School, and Sister Elizabeth Johnson, whose vivacious writings on the “living God” have enticed Catholics to discuss the nature of God without falling asleep.