14 Ordinary A – July 6, 2014 – Freedom and Equality Are Not the Same
The Chicago Sun Times recently quoted The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. as he reflected on the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act (1964). He said, “We’re free but not equal. There’s a gap in health care and education, jobs and income and housing.” 
This weekend you and I celebrate our Declaration of Independence from a tyrannical King George III. The bold document asserts that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator, with unalienable rights — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights governments are instituted among us. They derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
Has Abraham Lincoln’s classic address about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”  been modified? Do civic regimes today honor only those who can afford to be heard? Does not the freedom of expression belong to all classes? What are the responsibilities of those who are governed? By treating one another with generosity, trust and respect instead of cynicism, suspicion or hatred we promote unalienable rights for all. But there is more that is expected of us as citizens of this country and as Christians.
Today’s gospel calls for sharing one another’s burdens. The word “yoke” is used metaphorically by the author to describe those things that control the lives of people.” Religious laws during the time of Jesus were most restrictive. The Pharisees led the peasants to believe that by strictly adhering to 613 commandments they would please God. Jesus spoke of a new law, a new spirit. He challenged religious and governmental leaders to treat all people with compassion and understanding.  In doing so, Jesus understands himself as a spokesperson of Wisdom.
The founders of this country broke away from the yoke of imperialism. However, there are new oppressions that must be shared to make the American burden light. Learning to be tolerant of one another’s values and aspirations in a pluralistic nation can be difficult. Divisions among people occur when the interests of powerful political, religious, corporate and even family entities suppress the rights of others. It is a complex situation that can be resolved only by breaking down the boundaries that divide us.
These divisions are deep according to Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics. Corporate welfare increases while we curtail public assistance for poor people. Rich farmers get subsidies while we cut back nutritional support for needy persons. Drug companies are given billions of dollars as we limit Medicaid benefits. Stiglitz continues, “Economic inequality yields political inequality and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality.” He concludes, “justice has become a commodity affordable to only a few.” 
When George Washington met with some governors and states of our new nation in 1783 he shared a prayer for our country. That God would dispose us, he prayed, “to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with charity, humility, and a peaceful temper of mind.” He went on to say if we do not do so, “we can never hope to be a happy nation.” 
Some say the American dream is to be happy. Not all people can achieve that dream. There are still too many yokes that burden us because, depending on your race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, education or class, not all people are treated with equity. On this Fourth of July weekend you and I give thanks for our freedoms. Let us continue to work and pray for equality.
1 Sfondoles, Tina. “Marking 50 Years of Civil Rights Act” in Chicago Sun Times 06/28/14 p. 9
2 See Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (November 19, 1863)
3 John J. Pilch The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A. (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1995) pp. 106-108
4 Stiglitz, Joseph E. “Is Equality Inevitable?” The New York Times June 29, 2014, SR7
5 George Washington Circular Letter to the States, Newburgh, NY, 1783