Thirty First Sunday of the Year
Matthew’s gospel begins and ends with the revelation that Jesus is ‘God with us’ (1:23-24) and will be with us until the end of time (28:20). This presence is also a call to be a life-giving presence to others in our little corner of the world. Religious leaders are being addressed by Malachi and Matthew for their shortcomings, for failing to facilitate the right understanding of divine teaching in the context of their times. This still occurs as so many people today seem to be excluded from a formation to think critically and have not been supported and accompanied in the challenges they face.
We forget that we are made for relationship and that this is only way to transform our world. In Laudato si', Francis insists that though we are created for relationship: with God, with the earth, and with our neighbours, especially the poor, these three vital relations have been broken. Recently, in Laudate Deum he has appealed to us to create new structures that foster and protect these relationships where we view our fellow creatures as companions rather than adversaries. Confrontation and mastery replace friendship and stewardship. Both documents counter this by describing a number of virtues: care, love, gratitude, humility, sobriety, solidarity. We need to perceive that Creation is a sacrament, a material manifestation of God's love, which is he calls ‘the fundamental moving force in all created things.’ Francis urges us to feel ‘the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement’ as an ailment in ourselves. The maltreatment of our sister and brothers must be seen as a painful disfigurement. For Francis, ‘Underlying every form of work is a concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other than ourselves.’ If our activity is not animated by care, seeking healing and liberation, we will see ourselves as masters rather than servants.
Today’s readings touch on the tendency to patriarchalism and exclusivity, which lead to divisions and a forgetting that we, as sisters and brothers, have one parent. Ostentation and titles can also lead to division. They can lull us into a false deference to authority which lead to a failure to speak truth to power in the face of injustice. Jesus rejected titles because they contributed to ostentation, arrogance and pomposity and kept people apart. Respect applies to people and the lives they lead, not their titles. We do not need to mention some seminarians, priests, and bishops who like to parade themselves in fine gear. Malachi condemns leadership that leads to inequality in the community. Jesus declares an end to patriarchy and oligarchy as domination systems. ‘Call no (man) on earth your (father) …or your teacher’. It is patriarchy that leads to oppression, domination, war and violence.
Jesus challenged religious leaders for their hypocrisy, their tendency to draw attention to the narrow, burdensome way the law was taught, their attachment to privileges, and lack of congruence between what they preached and practiced. Their preaching made God look very exacting and demanding. The problems they threw Jesus' way revealed either an inability or a refusal to consider that their beliefs and leadership needed a radical renewal. They turned them into barricades that secure their prestige and privilege.
Leaders today, who have been entrusted with the task of teaching, fail to teach through the lens of Christ. There is a breathtaking silence on so many issues: about domestic violence, about caring for our Common Home and climate justice, about military spending, about respect and solidarity for First Nations people, and about people who are excluded. We little in the way of challenging them about people who exclude others, who are patriarchal, misogynistic. All this normalises injustice and discrimination. This has nothing to do with the Reign of God. Malachi questions ‘priests’ who seek favour with the rich and powerful. His powerful question ‘Why ... do we break faith with each other?’ (Mal 2:9) also applies to us. Why do relationships fail and friendships grow cold? Why do we belittle and exploit each other? Why do we betray one another? Why do we kill each other? Why do we kill love? Why do we fear one another and erect barriers through laws and policies? Why do we refuse to the Palestinian, the Indonesian; the Iraqi, the Sri Lankan or the Afghan as valued as ourselves?
Our name and identity is that that of ‘friend’ of Jesus. It is not based on merit, achievements but a gracious offer so that we might see and encounter others because they bear the same name and identity. In Galatians, Paul says, ‘In Christ …no man or woman, Jew or gentile. We are one in Christ.’ We bear his identity which is often blurred in relations to diverse groups: First Nations people, Palestinians, Muslims, Rohingyas, LGBTIQA+ people, asylum seekers and people of colour. It comes down to praxis. We may say that these people are our sisters and brothers and the image of God, but that changes when they come to our door, or our community, or our church. Jesus’ expressed leadership by loving service which is God’s way of being with us. His life was invested in a praxis and lifestyle that contrasted with contemporary religious leaders who manipulated religion for social privilege.
Prophets often railed against religion as a commodity, and it leaders as entrepreneurs. They railed against leaders who blessed the status quo, or who made alliances with partisan groups. We see this today where church leaders can be tempted to align themselves closely to a particular political view or party and then fail to speak out on some social issues. Our call is to declare what is good, just, and break down the barriers and limits our charity and justice making.
It follows that we are called to be of service to one another and live in loving solidarity with each other – not to dominate, oppress or rule over one another. In today’s terms this perspective can be applied to war and peace; economic injustice; and racism and xenophobia. With war and peace, human beings and their governments work to control others and dominate and so resort to war and violence to gain or preserve positions of power, wealth or control. This is not the way of Jesus. With economic injustice; human beings and their corporations and institutions work to gain wealth and economic domination. This means that people are sometimes ‘left out.’ Employment conditions are appalling, wages inadequate and unjust. Some have too much and many others have too little. This is not the way of Jesus. Finally, with racism and xenophobia, still very rife, human beings can dominate and stereotype others. Sometimes whole groups of people are ‘left out’ and fall through the gaps, a discrimination that is reflected in laws and policies. We are sisters and brothers with one common parent. When people seek power or control rather than serve, divisions arise. The One who is at the heart of the universe calls us to solidarity and interdependence with one another and all creation.
Jesus began a journey away from patriarchy, hierarchy and systems of domination towards a community with inclusive models and metaphors for God. We reflect that in a lifestyle of kindness and mercy. It is reflected in solidarity with the suffering and the ‘wretched of the earth’ by making it clear that we are sisters and brothers. It is a new kind of globalisation of hope for the poor, and a communion of saints. 'The greatest among you will be your servant'
I see no logic, I see no gains, I see no sides, I see no one survive
I see smoke, I see ruins, I see death, I see misery, I see homicide
I hear cries, I hear sobs, I hear silence, I hear them call
I hear bombs, I hear blasts, I hear rockets, I hear it all
I am far away yet not far enough to not feel the pain
I wonder how may the rest of humanity survives the fail
I tremble in my sleep, I shiver in my dreams, I wobble in my walks
I struggle in the day, I shudder in the night, I suffer in my thoughts
I can’t hear no more, I can’t see no more, I can think no more
I see no boundaries, I see no divide, I see apartheid, I see Palestine
Palestine O Palestine!
Samina Salim is Associate Professor, University of Houston