Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year

For the last four Sundays Mark’s gospel has portrayed the success of Jesus’ ministry where the crowds listened to his teachings, expressed in parables; witnessed the healing of the sick and the possessed, and the restoration of Jairus’ daughter to life.

Ezekiel announces that ‘The Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet’ that called him to speak of God’s care for a people in exile and in case he naively thought it would be easy, God explains, ‘whether they heed or resist… they shall know that a prophet has been among them.’ Ezekiel finds there is resistance to God’smessage; the Psalm speaks of contempt for the righteous or just; Paul shares of his hardships; and we see in Mark that Jesus is no stranger to such problems. But it is necessary as Pope Francis says, ‘A true prophet is the one who is capable of crying for his people and also saying things strongly when he has to’ but only the Spirit provides the humility and mercy to do so with compassion. There is no telling what the outcome will be. We are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful by expressing mercy, compassion, and kindness.   

 

The Gospel is always proclaimed by people who are flawed in some way, and it heard by people who are flawed. It is tempting to criticise the people of Nazareth in their response to Jesus.  It is easy to criticise the people of Nazareth in their response to Jesus. We are all capable of limiting what we think God can do in our lives, our communities, and our world. We too disbelieve. I wonder if that disbelief has more to do with view of their capacities to effect change. We too are apt to restrict what we think God is capable of in our lives and our communities. We can say with Nathaniel (Jn 1:45), ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ or ‘Can anything good come out of me?’ The rejection Jesus meets is only different to the rejection he encounters elsewhere in degree only. Nadia Bolz-Weber says that ‘rejection has been the traveling companion of the Gospel from the beginning. Don't take it personally.’ Three ‘prophets’- Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus – who were broadly called to ‘repair/heal the world’ (tikkun olam) all met roadblocks.

 

Preaching is said to be an ‘audacious act.’ It can leave one exposed and vulnerable. It is precarious as Ezekiel found that his efforts seemed to be in vain. Something stirred that could not be avoided. Paul said ‘the love of God impels us’ and for Ezekiel the coming of the Spirit meant kissing his ambitions goodbye. This wild Spirit has plans for humanity and creation but those who want to protect their privileges will unite to reject and silence anyone who allowed the Spirit to work through them. As Philip Berrigan said, ‘The poor tell us who we are. The Prophets tell us who we should be. So, we hide the poor and kill the prophets.’ People speak of thankless jobs and here is job description for the prophet: ‘Requires spending endless hours with people who dislike, dismiss, or reject you completely. Must be able to defend a product that few want and many hate. No vacations; few apparent benefits. Poor pay. Chances of bodily harm, torture and death very high.’ This was the thankless job of people like Ezekiel, other prophets, and Jesus. We are reminded today that being a prophet is a costly calling. Ezekiel relinquishes priestly comfort to proclaim to an audience of ‘scorpions’ (Ez. 2: 6). Paul gives up his status for the weakness necessary to share the strength of new creation and cosmic reconciliation. We see Jesus torn away from the mooring of kinship, household, and hometown in order to realize the fullness of the reign of God (Mk 1: 14).

 

Walter Brueggemann says that prophets nurture, nourish, and evoke an alternative consciousness to the dominant culture that consists of power, patriarchy, prosperity, consumerism, and a growing public narcissism. Jesus came as prophet to the religious political establishment and called out the hypocrisy where the freedom they espoused kept people subjugated. The prophet’s call, and task, is to lift the veil on whatever opposes God’s reign by critiquing and criticising culture, government, institutions, practices of abuse and oppression that many consider acceptable. Part of this task is to point out how we can form community that is compassionate, human, just and caring and prioritises a preferential option for the poor.  Last Sunday, Jesus used the words, ‘Talitha Kum’ (‘Stand up, arise!’). This is a call that can arise through people to get up, to wake up from complacency, indifference, passivity, and apathy and move to a greater compassion and mercy. It involves standing together with our voices, actions and to denounce whatever dehumanises and acts against the dignity of the person.  Milan Kundera says, ‘The struggle of (man) against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’  This forgetting is about who God is, who we are, and hearing the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

 

Ezekiel was called to a people in ‘rebellion’ – a people focusing on their own concerns and abandoning the ‘revolution’ that fosters justice, equity and sharing. The prophetic word varies according to time and place, but Jesus’ radical message of reconciliation and nonviolence continues. Each of us, and the church, is called to live a prophetic life; to be Jesus’ presence in the world; to speak God’s compassionate and merciful word; and to broaden the tent in which people can be embrace.

 

Our call is to be more than people think and be as God sees us. Two weeks ago, the mustard seed was labelled a weed as was Jesus and the early Christian community. Though seen as a weed – as was the ‘the son of Mary’ - it grew into something that protects and nurtures. The readings are about ‘revolutionaries’ which the establishment and the privilege call ‘rebels.’ Jesus was thought of as a ‘rebel’ by his contemporaries: Where did he get all this? Is he not the carpenter, the ‘son of Mary?’ Paul confronted people about their private agenda religion that did not serve others. Our call is to be there for the long haul. We may ask ‘What good does it do’ when governments refuse to listen as we stand with Indigenous people to determine their own future or hear the cries for justice and safety in Palestine. ‘What good does it do’ to call attention to the faces and the history of people seeking asylum as the world shuts its doors. ‘What good does it do’ when women and other marginalised groups seek equality in church and society and continue to encounter deaf ears. ‘What good does it do’ as over 70% of trafficked persons are women and girls who are exploited for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced marriage and forced labour. Fronting up and being there means that a prophet is among them. It is a call to counter whatever dehumanises our sister and brothers. We are called to practice of mutual dependence or interdependence.  Society tends to prioritise independence and isolated individualism, but we can work toward shaping a society where our dependence is recognized and celebrated as a community where all thrive. As a community, we have each other. Arise. Get up.

 


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