Martin Heidegger said that it is only when a hammer doesn’t work that you realize that it is a hammer. Before the handle broke or the head shattered, it performed the task you set it to and took it for granted.

It is much the same way for blossoms. We regret their fading and loss, but if they never faded, not only would germination never be completed, but we would take their beauty for granted and be as blind to them as we are to the blades of grass in our lawns.

I had a friend who told me that as an insider — i.e., male, heterosexual, white, college-educated, given leadership responsibilities in my community, etc. — that I was blind to outsiders.

Furthermore, she told me the truth that until an outsider hurt me, I would not see him or her.

WELL-BEING OF ALL

The hurt could be in many forms, among them recognizing one’s compliance in prejudice, realizing that much of what came to me in life has come as a result of privilege even more than from my work — in other words, the shattering of self-righteous illusions. That hurts, but without it we don’t grow beyond our cultural blindness.

There is also class blindness. It’s a real problem in America today. If the resentment of a graduated income tax is any indicator, the well-off believe that they deserve what they have.

What happened to the common good aspect of the American dream, where the well-being of all people was at least as important as the possibility of upward mobility?

From where I stand, commitment to the common good was knocked off the list of American values when consumerism was relabeled as patriotic. It’s not much of a stretch from there to the opposite conclusion, that not consuming, i.e., being poor, is unpatriotic.

So, if you are barely getting by or not getting by at all because of discrimination, lack of education, old boy networks, the breakdown of American industry or financial services’ manipulation of aspiring but naive home buyers, you are unpatriotic?

But we seem blind to all this. Can’t we see ourselves in the faces of the underemployed, the holders of underwater mortgages, the homeless, the addicted to anything, including money?

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

You have probably heard these statistics. “Economic inequality has accelerated dramatically in the U.S. since the early 1980s. One percent of the U.S. population holds 34 to 39 percent of the nation’s wealth; the top 5 percent hold between 66 and 72 percent of the wealth; and the bottom 50 percent hold 2 percent of the wealth,” Gary Dorrien writes in the April 19 edition of the Christian Century.

“The share of America’s income held by the top 1 percent of the population has more than doubled since 1980, while the bottom 90 percent has, since 1975, coped with flat wages and mounting debt.”

Do you see the moral problem we need to work together to solve in these numbers, or do you think the richest among us deserve what they are getting as do the poor?

If you count yourself among the latter, then I suggest that you are blind to the class prejudice that pervades our lives and are blind to it because you benefit from it or have been persuaded that you do.

I benefit from it, too, but Jesus keeps batting me over the head with his words and his tears. The pain of them slowly washes away my insider blindness, another healing miracle notched on his belt.

A MORE JUST SOCIETY

The first step from here to a more just society, toward a nation that pursues the common good, is for your sight and mine to be healed so that we can recognize the sacred humanity in all persons regardless of class.

An abstract response, i.e., contributing to charities from afar, helps but it doesn’t heal our blindness. We insiders have to take the time to meet outsiders, giving them our reverent attention in order to see them and, through them, see ourselves.

Then we will begin to understand that human need is not a threat to our well-being but an opportunity to participate in the healing, ours and theirs. This healing will end in abandoning the phrase “ours and theirs” for the one word, “ours.”

I think that is something of what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers, “Inasmuch as you have done it (fed, comforted, clothed, visited, welcomed) to one of the least of these you have done it to me” (Matthew 25:40). If we have not done these things for those in need, we have passed by Jesus, missed the life-changing opportunity of seeing him, the one in need and ourselves.

In the poet Mary Oliver’s words, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Bill Gregory is an author and retired minister. He may be reached at:

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