Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

Pope Francis says that he wants a poor Church for the poor. This wish is based on today’s gospel. The disciples are called to make their home amongst strangers. Last week, Jesus came home and was made to feel a stranger and was expelled from the synagogue. Amos, too, was expelled from the sanctuary after he made a powerful call for social justice where those who tried to please God by ‘worship’ whilst their lives were based on dishonesty, corruption, and oppression of the poor.  It was a harsh truth to an educated and sophisticated regime disinclined to take any notice of him or his message. It was a place of prosperity and wealth but rife with social inequity, injustice and immorality and where religion was closely linked to state power. As with Jesus, Amos was not silenced by the rejection and nor should we.

We are currently following the suspension and condemnation of Fatima Payman, a young Senator, for her principled stance to speak out in support of Palestinians and Palestinian state contrary to her party’s line. She will not be silenced by party dictates and so-called party rules. She has made herself personally and politically vulnerable as she opposes the killing of more than 40,000 Palestinian people. Interestingly, she is standing up for something a large proportion of the population believes is right. Fatima Payman’s stance reflects Mark Twain’s line: ‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect’.  It can be risky to speak truth where lies predominate and injustice goes unchecked. However, we know God’s presence is evident where and when faithfulness, justice and peace are active in and through a community. Organisations and nations always need those who will speak truth to power, and where leaders are held accountable to the standards of God’s Reign – justice, peace, equality, compassion, good management, and the good of the people and the planet. People of colour and immigrants have long borne the pain of witnessing unacknowledged violence, injustice, and trauma. Those of us with the choice to look or turn away are called to bear witness and to wrestle with the whole story. It can be difficult to stir up the flames of caring and compassion when there is apathy and indifference. But we, like Amos and the disciples, are called into the minefields of ministry: to come alongside and be with; to speak to and serve people we normally not associate with.


As with the Australian Labor Party, many church circles, and for Amaziah in the first reading, ‘religion’ or ‘party rules’ imply loyalty to the status quo and dissent is deemed as betrayal. Holiness is spelled out in love and justice - not piety and a sterile and disengaged morality. Amos was faithful to his God-given task, as we all are, to confront abuse, injustice, and hunger. To crush the voice of hope, prophets need to be silenced when vested interests are threatened. The disciples’ mission was to reach out to ordinary people – especially those ‘written off’ with implications for the churches that refuse to include people because of sexual orientation, ethnicity, and gender (women).  To come into the space of ordinary people involves radical simplicity. Can we open the minds and hearts of people to the nearness of God’s reign by the way we engage and serve? To take the message to others, we need to bask in God love for us, as Paul advises. In Mark, Jesus sends disciples two by two to proclaim the nearness of God’s Reign. How would people listen if these former fisher folk failed to remember that they were followers of the poor man, Jesus, and that they needed to stay close to the poor and walk as Jesus did without worrying about food, clothing, and shelter? Mark is telling us that it is only if we stay close to the poor can we recognise those unclean spirits or demons that are concealed and disguised by the baggage of patriotism, individualism, religious loyalties, and consumerism. Hence, we must not be seduced by identification with the rich, your own culture, and what they value. It is not easy to identify with the poor and so it is necessary to have support of another.


Mark’s narrative is action-oriented and heart-centred. Jesus and his followers are always on the move. Profoundly significant in the early community are stories of women, though nameless, who were models of authentic discipleship. Like Jesus, they assertively break boundaries, defy social codes, and are attuned to the liberation of the reign of God. Mere belief is not enough – the gospel needs to be lived as we work to deconstruct an unjust world and introduce a new world through the person of Jesus. His healings, casting out of demons and forgiveness of sins were not just about alleviating personal suffering but exposing the oppressive nature of the prevailing political and religious power systems. In the face of government and corporate brutality towards vulnerable people, compassion must be our ‘protest’ and hospitality our ‘resistance’.


Gospel simplicity draws our attention to the danger of accumulated ‘baggage’ (our history, our experiences, our prejudices) that threatens the mission of the reign of God. The churches can often remain silent in the face of injustice and inequality for fear of losing funding. Fear can also be baggage we carry in Australia. It has led to and continues to lead to paralysis as we ferociously cling to whatever paralyses us: fear of terrorism that justifies harsh anti-terror laws; fear of asylum seekers who might want to harm us and threaten our life style that justifies indefinite detention and abuse; fear of people from other ethnic, cultural or religious groups that justifies preventing them from having schools and places of worship; fear of invasion from invisible enemies that justifies greater military spending that deprives the poor of welfare; fear that women might win control and claim their unique power; fear of gay and lesbian people who might undermine certain traditions. This kind of baggage destroys us and separates us from one another. It prevents us from being welcoming and hospitable in our communities.


We cannot distance ourselves from the radical and challenging nature of Jesus message or Amos’ message. Amos’ speech, coming from an outsider, was offensive to patriotic ears as he highlighted the experience of the poor and how the nation that would be punished because of its treatment of the poor – slavery, short-changed wages whilst they feasted and lived in luxury, while those closest to God’s heart, the poor, have languished in hunger and poverty. The Iranian journalist and former refugee, Behrooz Boochani, showed up our failure to provide hospitality to asylum seekers and our harsh treatment of people in detention. Boochani, like many other prophetic figures, helped us to see ourselves as God sees us. Outsiders can often us more clearly than we see ourselves. Amos’ concern for the poor is also centralised in Mark who is reminding people (40 years after Jesus’ death) that the poor represent the touchstone for Christian authenticity.


We have little to say to the poor of the world if we do not give authentic witness ourselves. Though we may not be responsible when people refuse to listen, the message can also be judged by our lifestyle more than what we say.  The saintly Brazilian bishop Dom Helder Camara, known as the bishop of the dispossessed, told catechists, who spoke most to illiterate people: ‘Sisters and brothers, watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your listeners will ever read’. So often our lifestyle can distort the gospel. When Jesus called his disciples, they were to leave everything to follow him: ‘Take nothing with you.’  Yet, we call ourselves Christian and participate in an economy that accepts over 48,000 children dying each day while a minority enjoy prosperity. We participate in an economy that tolerates 120,000 people sleeping without shelter. We can accept the continual voicelessness of women in the church and inequality in the marketplace. We overlook decades of violence against the Palestinian people and defend that violence when they dare to resist. We ignore the low-lying countries and islands in Pacific that are harshly affected by climate change. We ignore the West Papuan people who continue to suffer violations, hunger, abuse, and denial of independence.  We did not listen to First Nations people in their call for a Voice to Parliament. We still fail to acknowledge the impact of colonialism, occupation, and dispossession of their land.  We can still give a preferential option of the paradigms of power and clerical entitlement rather than a preferential option for service to the poor. Mark does not allow us to distance ourselves from radical nature of the gospel. God’s word must be proclaimed even amid violence - where there is oppression and injustice. Mark calls us to active discipleship. He will not permit us to remain passive.


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