“Humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his or her interest, but also those of others.” Romans 2: 1-11.
Stories of irony and paradox fill the gospel.
In Matthew’s gospel, only a few days before Jesus’s crucifixion, Jesus rebuked the chief priests and elders of the temple: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21: 28-32)
The gospel writer knew first-hand what it meant to be an outsider to his Jewish community. Matthew was a tax-collector.
Jesus tells a story about a son who agreed to do his Father’s work but failed to perform and the other son who said: “I will not,” but changed his mind and came to work in the family vineyard.
The irony here is that the second son is the enterprising and transformative figure to benefit his Father’s livelihood.
You might call him the outsider who Jesus eagerly calls to his work. We see great potential in this young son!
Let’s consider a person who changes their own life and the lives of others, a genuinely transformative person.
Matthew opens this parable with a declarative sentence: “A man had two sons…” but for a moment, let’s substitute another point of reference.
How about Jesus saying: “A man had two daughters…?” Jesus had women followers. Most notably, Mary Magdalene was the first of the believers on Easter.
Deep within Jewish tradition, there were strong women of faith, including Ruth, Rachel, Esther, and Deborah, and so many more.
At the time of the Judges, Deborah was a “compassionate leader,” and the only female judge in the bible.
When the ancient Canaanites oppressed Israel, the Jewish people appealed to Deborah. In a poem, the “Song of Deborah,” the scripture writer recalls her:
“Champions there were none,
None left in Israel.
Until you, Deborah arose,
arose as a mother in Israel.” (Judges, 5)
Deborah was a transformative leader, so too, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
At her passing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is remembered as an associate justice of the Supreme Court and a transformational leader. How so? In life, she was an advocate for woman and their rightful role in American society. In death, she is the first woman and the first Jew to lie-in-state at the U.S. Capitol.
For the Supreme Court memorial, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt opened with the words: “Blessed is God, the true judge.”
About her congregant, Rabbi Holtzblatt said: “To be born in a world that does not see you, that does not see your potential… and despite this sees beyond the world you are in, to imagine that something can be different: this is the job of a prophet.”
On a personal level, for those of us who love grand opera, recall how Justices Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia could put partisanship aside and enjoy a favorite aria. If the photographs are accurate, how together they sat atop a giant elephant in India, merely defying gravity!
Years ago, Nina Totenberg of NPR asked Justice Ginsburg about her growing up in Midwood, Brooklyn. One of her early childhood disappointments was the loss of an Italian-American girlfriend who decided to leave P.S. 238, a public school, for the local parochial school.
At the time, Ginsburg was sad and missed her classmate. In the interview, the “notorious RBG” remarked that Catholics have it all – with their saints. Jews have no saints, and it was their loss. Saints? Frankly, there are plenty of saints among us. No one is unworthy of God’s love!
May she rest in peace, and may her memory be a blessing!
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.