Sunday, February 24, 2019
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
The news was carried by National Public Radio this past week. It noted the following: “Never in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has a pope ordered bishops from around the world to come together and consider how many priest abuse children [and I would add adults] and how many church officials cover for the abusers. The scandal of clergy sex abuse has deep roots in church history, but church leaders have been notoriously reluctant to acknowledge it and deal with the consequences.”
The three-day meeting of 100 bishops in Rome was to address the protection of minors in the church. Less any other religious folk be quick to condemn the Roman Catholic Church, such abuse of children as well as abuse and assault on women and men occurs in Protestant as well as Orthodox churches and other religious groups.
Given the media attention to such abuse and the decision of victims who have been abused to speak out, we are reminded of the devastating consequences such abuse has had on the lives of countless individuals. The story I want to share with you this morning is not about sexual abuse or sexual assault, but a story of a girl who may have been a teenager and a Zen priest who lived the same village.
This is the story.
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied, “Is that so?” When the baby was born, the parents brought the child to Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect.
The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies, they explained what had happened. “Is that so?” Hakuin said as he handed them the child. (Zen Stories to Tell your Neighbors, John Suler).
When I first read the story of Hakuin, I thought it made no sense. Why did he not speak up for himself as the girl’s parents and the people of the village ostracized him? As we look about our world today we have come to a new understanding about the importance of making certain we continue to take seriously any sexual abuse or assault on children as well as women and men. While the story of Hakuin includes the girl recanting her accusation, it still made no sense to me that Hakuin would choose to be silent.
That is, until I came across our reading from The Gospel According to Luke about the day Jesus came down with from a mountain with Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Judas and Judas Iscariot. He stood on level place healing and teaching the multitudes that had come from all Judea, Jerusalem and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Hakuin would have taken Jesus’ words to heart. “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-28; 31).
“Do good . . . and expect nothing in return. Be merciful.” (Luke 6:35, 36-37).
I thought Hakuin’s response to the girl, her parents and the people of the village made no sense. But I now know and would like to believe that despite knowing the truth, Hakuin choose to not reciprocate in responding to others in the way that he had been treated. (Preaching the Word Year C, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1994 page 108).
Jesus gave teachings on how not to be a victim: take charge of your life and the situation by taking the initiative in loving, caring and giving. That is what Hakuin did. He did not judge or condemn the girl, her parents or the people of the village. In a way that is at the heart of the Hawaiian phrase uku pana‘e. Uku pana‘e is essentially what we find in our reading: “ . . . the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
If you have ever seen a lei niho palaoa it is hard not to be struck by its simple and - what is for me - its exquisite beauty. The lei was worn only the aliʻi, the chiefs – both women and men. It was the belief of the ancient Hawaiians that the coils of finely braided human hair contained mana or divine power and so a chief wearing a lei niho palaoa carried the mana of his or her ancestors, as well as that of the gods whom they worshipped in their day and time.
Some of the lei niho palaoa were made from coral or other bone. However, the lei niho palaoa made of sperm whale ivory was reserved for only the highest ranking ali‘i. Because the whale ivory could only come from a beached whale, the places where they washed ashore were considered sacred. The ownership of the whale was codified by the late Mary Kawena Pukui, a Hawaiian scholar and linguist. She wrote: “Above, below, the upland and the lowland; the whale that washes ashore – all belong to the chief.”
The carved form of the lei niho palaoa mimics the shape of a protruding tongue. Its incorporation into the necklace signaled the importance of oratory in chiefly pursuits. It has been said by some that its shape alludes to the genealogical rights of the chiefs to speak for and to rule their people.
By the mid-nineteenth century as Hawaiians converted to Christianity, the spiritual or religious significance of the lei niho palaoa diminished but its social significance remained. In spite of the change, it is evident that the ali‘i were always deeply aware of their responsibilities.
The curvature in the sperm whale ivory was a reminder to the ali‘i that - however they treated others, however they spoke of others - such actions would be uku pana‘e - done to them in return. Or as the writer of The Gospel of Luke reminds us: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
We do not reciprocate in responding to others. The idea that we would respond– “an eye for an eye “ – caused someone to say that if that were the case the whole world would be blind. “Just as [our] behavior is not determined by [our enemies], neither is it determined by [our friends]. Our behavior and attitude are prompted by the God we worship; who does not hate in response to hatred or [even] love in response to love. God does not react; God acts in love and grace toward all, and such is the way of those who are children of the Most High [God]” (Luke 6:35).
We do not judge or condemn, but rather we give and forgive knowing that God is full of grace, and the final work of grace is to make all of us a gracious people (Ibid., page 109). That is so.