Fifth Sunday of Lent

What is God up to? According to Jeremiah, religion is getting a complete makeover from something formal, external and calcified to something alive that can touch peoples’ lives. Jeremiah speaks of God’s desire for a new and more intimate covenant that is gut-located, heart-centered, and mind-penetrated. This motherly wants nothing to do with punishment and over and over again ‘gambles on love’. This covenant, written or tattooed on our hearts, is a law of love and care, not hate and punishment. As we see immense suffering, death and destruction through war and violence, great polarisations, nationalism, genocide and xenophobia, we ask how people who say they know God can continue by their actions or silence to allow dehumanisation, dispossession, oppression and exploitation of Palestinians, indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants to continue.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius invites us to imagine God looking with great love upon our world where some ‘[people are] being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning. With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing……’ From this place of looking lovingly upon humanity, God seeks to be as close to us as possible by sending Jesus among us. This reckless love and compassion took over Jesus’ life and was expressed in wanting to experience everything we experience. We are called to be who God is – to be God’s heart enfleshed on earth and to make room for everybody in our hearts. The Pope from the peripheries displays unwavering solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised despite opposition – and calls us to go those peripheries. That is where we can see Jesus! The Pope challenges the Church to abandon the security of the status quo and to embrace the risk of vulnerability where we are listening and open to the other away from the cramped world of self-absorption to a more expansive place where we are all sisters and brothers.


As God's representative, Jesus proves the boundless power of love through vulnerability. Without this vulnerability, there is no room for people whether victims or victimisers in our world. Without it, we cannot resemble God’s expansive compassion that stands with the poor and vulnerable in profound respect rather than judging them for how they carry it. Jesus eats with these people and renders them acceptable. He is not a man for others but with others sharing their pain and brings himself into their world and erases margins and barriers. Jack Gilbert, American poet, says ‘The pregnant heart is driven to hopes that are the wrong size for this world.’ Christ's ministry was a ministry of reckless love reminding people of God’s promise of abundant life – a life with dignity and justice. Jesus made people realize their inherent worth as God’s creation and what they can do together. Though solidarity and humanity can seem to take a backward step at times, we must recognise that there is a growth in nonconformity where voices are saying ‘Another world is possible’. It is made possible by people giving of themselves, sometimes their lives, for others to create a radically different world order. People are waking up and acting on what they see and hear. People are finding the courage to resist outrageous laws. As people come to appreciate their inherent worth, they fight for it for themselves and others.


In Hebrews we see a very human Jesus who struggled to be obedient to God and his mission. In that struggle we see a God who does not tire of the heartbroken or those who fail and who offers us a second and third chance. This is what God is up to. Brené Brown in ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ connects power and vulnerability rather than vulnerability versus power. Many people try to avoid vulnerability because it is often associated with people without power, people in harm’s way, and the weak places and points where we are least protected and easily hurt. Engaging in methods of self-protection - guarding against pain, choosing safer paths, seeking certainty, choosing acceptance over authenticity – lead to self-isolation. She concludes that if vulnerability leaves us open to pain, shame, and rejection, it also leaves us open to love, acceptance, and belonging. This is the vulnerability of God too.


Joanna Macy encourages us not be afraid to allow our hearts to be broken open because that is how the world gets in and healing begins. Leonard Cohen says that there is a crack in everything and that is how the light gets in. This is how a vulnerable God can love us. God chooses vulnerability expressed in relationship with people, forgiveness, and love. God does not just offer us love but shows us how it is done.


Last week we heard that ‘God so loved the world that God sent God's only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for us.’ This is the logic of God’s reign. To explain this love unto death, Jesus uses a simple image: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.’ We are back to vulnerability. If the grain dies, it sprouts and brings forth life, but if it shuts itself up in its little husk and keeps its vital energy to itself, it remains sterile. This is the dynamic that makes the life of a person who suffers motivated by love something fertile and life giving. It cannot be imposed. Whoever clings selfishly to his life, will lose it; whoever knows how to surrender it generously, will generate more life.


God is still writing on people’s hearts – people from every race, religion and nation. The media has given us many powerful examples of people from all social backgrounds who dedicated themselves to helping others during the Covid-19 pandemic.


Next Sunday (March 24) we remember St. Oscar Romero who was murdered in 1980 for his solidarity with the poor, the human rights defenders and church people oppressed and for speaking out. For him to remain silence and uninvolved was sinful. His call, like that of Pope Francis, was for the church to be in solidarity with those on the margins.


People still want to see Jesus, but do they see him in our flesh - in our following and witnessing? Jesus’ suffering is a concrete sign of his solidarity, and God’s suffering, with us. The gospel story begins with the Greeks or Gentiles wanting to meet Jesus. Rather than confirm his personality cult status, he refers to himself as an anti-hero and a countercultural force by using the ‘grain’ to speak of his passion, death and resurrection. Rather than focusing on the spectacular, the powerful and dominant he chose the way of vulnerability expressed in service and solidarity; of a life poured out for others. He shows us – and the Greeks and Gentiles - that he is among people who are rejected, suffering, unvalued or oppressed. We must go with him if we are to be his followers. It is through these encounters that we find we cannot rest while our sisters and brothers suffer. Pope Francis reminds us, ‘We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our hearts are filled with faces and names! The great goals of our dreams and plans may only be achieved in part…No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force (Fratelli Tutti, 195).’


Former Maryknoll President, Antoinette Gutzler writes, ‘[Solidarity]...calls us to acknowledge our own suffering and then to shift our perspective into one that encompasses all the suffering peoples throughout the world. In a world where God is in charge – where Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, we realize that we are not alone – we are all connected. The recognition of that connection gives birth to empathy, compassion and a call to action for the life of the world.’ (Maryknoll President).


Do we love and care enough to speak up against the injustices we see in our society?


Holy One,

Your grace abounds in our lives

as you make new covenants with us

and create new spirits and new hearts for us.

We are grateful for the faithful ways that you walk with us daily

in our sufferings, fears, vulnerabilities

and as we take up our crosses.

Continue your work of grace in us,

for your grace is greater than any of our human deaths.

In your holy names we pray, Amen


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