In the midst of a global pandemic and during the week that started the trial of the man who killed George Floyd, one might well ask, “how are some ancient laws from the Bible relevant and aren’t other things more pressing?” Well, yes and no. Had we been mindful of the thoughts we have raised from Deuteronomy in years past, we might have found ourselves on a very different path in 2020-2021.
The Covid 19 pandemic has uncovered systemic inequities in our society. Minorities have less access to healthcare in the US. Their jobs are less likely to have healthcare coverage. Their neighborhoods are less likely to have medical resources. Often, they are given less time, attention and resources than whites once they are in the medical setting. I heard the account of a black woman, a medical Dr. herself who asked to be admitted in the hospital and requested treatment for her covid-19 symptoms and was sent home instead by the attending physician. He told her she was not sick enough. She filmed her description of this event, and I could hear her struggling to breath. Shortly afterward, she died.
One thing the shutdown of the entire country did not seem to lower was the killing by police (or self-appointed “law keepers”) of unarmed Black people. The killings of Amhoud Arbery, Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd all happened at a time when it seemed nothing else was. That we, as a country have created situation where an entire sector of our society live in fear of the people we employ to serve and protect us reveals what was not evident to many of us and a crisis for many of us, that we are not treated with the same level of respect even still, based on the color of our skin. And that on that same basis the institutions our culture has developed for our benefit are in fact harmful to others.
Both of these sets of revelations that have emerged from the twin crises of the past year are addressed in the Torah and particularly in the passages of Deuteronomy we have been exploring. What God’s Law shows us is that in a society different sorts of people have different vulnerabilities and must be protected in different ways. What follows is that those with greater vulnerabilities need more safe guards against disenfranchisement and exploitation. It is remarkable to me that a Law code written in 1600 BCE makes this visible in ways to which we have become blind.
Underlaying both these practices is a truth that profoundly should affect us during these times of crisis. God is keenly interested in lives of all His children and ascribes great value to each of His children. Anyone who we might be tempted to think of as “the least of these” is as valuable to God as the rest of these. This sort of thing is often said without view to its implications- when we harm, disenfranchise, or disadvantage our brother or sister, God will hold us responsible. When we fail to advocate on their behalf, the LORD will advocate for them and against us.
If pandemics or police shootings seem focused on a certain sector of our society we must exmine our neglicence, silence, or participation, and recognize that any or all of these live us culpable before God. The Torah that shows us how far we are from God’s righteousness also offers us a promise of healing and transformation. Deuteronomy 30:6 says in part, “…the LORD will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants to love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul that you may live.” If our failures to care for those who are vulnerable can result in feelings of regret, compassion and love, we haven’t truly failed. We have begun succeeding.