Summary: We don't need American Exceptionalism as much as Jesus Exceptionalism, that liberates the whole human person.
Over the last few years I have heard a lot of people talking about “American Exceptionalism.” That is a theme of commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, but it is also something that many politicians on the left are drawn to–they want to make America exceptional by the changes they envision.
Today’s Scriptures describe what we might call “Jesus Exceptionalism.” The Church calls it the “preferential option for the poor.” Those who are in need, not the self-sufficient, are the primary target for our ministry and our evangelization. In today’s world, the poor are increasing in numbers, even in America. But they often tend to be obese, yet undernourished, because there is systematic neglect–much of it self-imposed–of the kind of things they eat. In today’s world, the thirsty are often those in third-world countries who have no reliable clean water. The stranger, the lonely one, could be living right next door to us. Nakedness, sickness, slavery–they are all still with us, and we all still have a responsibility to meet the needs of the poor.
The hard-core right wing would say, “let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” The hard-core leftist says, “put in government programs that push them out of poverty, and tax the rich at higher rates to pay for it.” The follower of Christ says, “how can I help?”
We should focus on two kinds of help. The first is emergency help. I know I’m a sucker for old guys begging on the side of a road. I grab a bunch of coins from my ashtray and give them away. That’s emergency help. That’s contributions to the Food Bank, if you want to be indirect. But the best kind of help combines emergency help like that with aid to build little water purification systems for Central Africa or Haiti. It includes microloans to third-world entrepreneurs to help them buy a loom or pottery wheel or computer so they can earn a living. Fortunately, we have charities like CRS or Food for the Poor who do both.
If we Americans are to live out the true spirit of July 4, we will want others in our country and around the world to achieve both independence and interdependence. But certainly to get out of the cycle of dependency that treats one’s whole life like an emergency. As we look at our giving of time, talent and treasure, let’s keep that in mind. When Jesus healed, he liberated the whole human person. We should do that as well.