Those in politics know that the temptation to exploit the weaknesses of others is potent.
Those who are regular readers of this devotional are aware of my fondness for the much-maligned Book of Leviticus. To many, this an Old Testament book filled with rules for sacrifice, cleanliness, and a litany of procedural matters related to worship and daily life. Thanks to the excellent (albeit heavy) instruction of my seminary professor, Dr. Jay Sklar, the Book of Leviticus now sits as my favorite Old Testament book for its loving conveyance of the true flourishing life.
One of my favorite nuggets is from chapter nineteen,
“You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:14)
Why is that instruction even necessary? What could possibly motivate the Covenant God, who has just rescued these former slaves from their oppressors, to instruct His people to not exploit or abuse those with a disability? Seriously, who curses the deaf or puts a stumbling block before the blind? Just picturing the scene seems farcical.
The answer is beyond humbling. We do! Every day!
Anyone serving in government, or any large organization for that matter, is enticed by the opportunity to exploit the disability of another on a regular basis. Despite the clear cruelty of exploiting those with physical disabilities rather than defending them, using the weaknesses of others for our amusement and gain is commonplace.
Over the course of working together, we eventually become aware of the weaknesses of our coworkers, colleagues, and political rivals. Perhaps they are not a skilled public speaker, too trusting (think about that for a moment), not well organized, make decisions with their feelings, make decisions that are purely analytical, disorganized, a poor dresser, naive, suffer from anxiety, or live over-extended. Each of those traits opens them up to exploitation by another.
Sadly, Washington has a track record of rewarding those who can identify the weakness of others, exploit it, and leverage that exploitation not just for amusement but for personal gain and advancement. There is a reason “Watch your six,” and “Don’t trust anyone in politics” are regular instructions for those new to the Hill or the administration.
When I was planting my first church, One Ancient Hope, in Iowa City, Iowa, one of our elders addressed the congregation on the day of my ordination and installation as their pastor.
“Those of us who have been here for any amount of time are well aware of Michael’s strengths, his weaknesses, and his flaws. Our job as his elders, and yours as members of this church, is not to exploit his weakness, but to stand guard so he is not destroyed by them.”
Living on the defensive every day is mentally, emotionally, relationally, physically, and even spiritually draining. His words brought tears to my eyes.
The words of Leviticus instruct Christians to identify the weaknesses of others, not for exploitation, but so that we are able to better care for them. In fact, it is our job! Because, as the words of Leviticus record a little later in verse eighteen, “but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
During Lent, the forty-day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve, we are reminded of the most counterintuitive example of the life-as-worship that Leviticus seeks.
Rather than exploiting us, Jesus humbled himself in order to serve us. Knowing our propensity to take advantage of the disabilities and weaknesses of others, Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, identified in our weakness and gave himself up as a sacrifice in order to rescue us from the penalty of our sin.
This is the heart of the gospel and the Christian life. How might living this way, in a gospel-shaped community, transform this federal city?
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for D.C. Ministry and the host of the Faithful Presence podcast.