Twelfth Sunday of the Year
Though the readings today leave us a bit uncomfortable, the main focus is Jesus revealing God’s love and care for us and every “strand” of creation as we are called beyond our fears, insecurities, and dark moments. He calls the disciples to embrace a vision of hope as opposed to fear.
Jeremiah, in a dark moment, shouts: "You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced! I say I will not mention [you] but then it is as if fire is burning in my heart." Despite wavering between fear and faith, he believes that God is with him yet has a view of God as an avenger who protects the ‘righteous’ and strikes down the so-called ‘wicked.’ For him, bullies must pay for the suffering they cause!!! This avenging view of God runs through the Scriptures and in the minds of many calling themselves Christian. At its extreme, this view supports prejudice, war and capital punishment.
Jesus’ response to this way of thinking by saying, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear the one who can destroy both body and soul." He suggests that the God he calls ‘father’ does not destroy, but that we do violence to our hearts when we seek revenge, We harm our spiritual, psychological, and even physical well-being.
We are being asked to consider where we will take our stand. We are asked what occupies our minds and determines our actions. Is it fear and vengeance, or hope and love? To know where Jesus stands, what he stands for, and with whom he stands, we need to look for the places of brokenness and disease; look where there is love, justice, compassion, peace; look where people are hurting, marginalised, oppressed, and devalued. This is clear when he says, “Blessed are you who are poor …, you who are hungry now …, and you who weep now.” (Luke 6:20ff). In the Beatitudes, he stands with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers (Mt. 5:3ff).
In 1980’s, during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a heard of a woman who was physically and psychologically abused by her father. In a moment of defiant self-talk she said: ‘There is one part of me you cannot touch’. Despite maltreatment, this girl knew she had inner value despite her treatment. Like many people, she had a sense that despite oppression outside forces could not define them. In some way they did not allow the negative people inhabit their head but remained free of mind and heard remembering the love of a God who goes with them. They refused definition from others or by their fear. Jeremiah knew that God does not abandon the poor and caused the truth to well up within him. How do we express this in our lives? This truth has been manifested worldwide and in our country as we see in the Uluru Statement from the Heart where a people will not be defined by the dominant system and demand a voice and to be heard. Their detractors will not have the last say. God causes the truth to well up in us. It demands to be heard and acted upon by us. This truth has been manifested around the world in response to systemic racism due to white privilege.
We have just celebrated Pentecost and the church needs to hear over and over, the words ‘do not be afraid.’ It calls for courage to go beyond the geography of its property towards the peripheries. Do we hear with Jeremiah, ‘…..the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side!’ Do we hear the whisperings today of the bodies of women, men and children? Though Jesus says, ‘do not be afraid’ white people fear black bodies; men fear female bodies, straight people fear queer bodies; and abled people fear of people with disabilities. These bodies are telling stories.
As we commemorate the International Day of Support for Victims of Torture, these bodies are calling to us for support, uncover the violence they suffered, and for torturers to be held accountable. We must uncover the disguised mistreatment of others - the ever-present effects of colonisation on First Nations’ people; of gender-based violence, rape, and killing of women; the torture and abuse of LGBTIQA+ people; and the threats and oppression of the defenseless by political and economic interests. These call out to us from Myanmar, Palestine, West Papua and Kurdistan. The gospel exposes the lies that justify petty interests and privileges. The spirit of Jesus does not allow silence to be unchallenged. When we come out of the silence and stand with Jesus on the side of full humanity and liberation, people who claim to be friends or family begin to act like enemies. We might walk into a wall: fear, opinions of friends, family security. We have a choice – silence, look away, or truly look, feel the compassion, and act.
Jesus says ‘Do not be afraid’. We need voices that cut through fear, unaccountability, complacency and indifference. These voices more often than not emerge from people considered without status who say ‘no’ to abuse, violence, environmental degradation, inequality and inequity, cronyism and vilification. They imagine that the world can be different. The late German theologian, Johann-Baptist Metz, said that our task is ‘to keep alive the memory of the crucified Lord’. We keep it alive by not ignoring the crucified peoples in our world. This is risky business. Perfect love takes sides and demands nothing less than our lives.
So what stand do we take before many injustices people experience today? As Jesus’ followers, will we ask if we are prepared to step into the places where the gospel is contradicted and say ‘It does not have to be this way?’ What stand do we take at the verbiage of social lies that cover up injustice? We know Jesus scandalised the authorities – and provoked opposition. Our solidarity with people cruelly treated in any way brings to light injustice and brings to light what perpetrators want to ignore or keep hidden.
Will we find the courage to speak out individually and as church? Jesus breathed on the disciples, but we see images of choking and suffocation in police cells and in parks. We are the ones who can, who must, hold that space by listening to what it is like for people living with prejudice, unfair treatment, false accusations, and disproportionate violence because of skin colour, religion, or accent. This takes courage and overcoming fears. Pentecost was not just about speaking but also listening. What do we hear? Who do we listen to? Our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need. If the church has a future, it is a future with the poor. We are ones who can, who must, be in that space. We must listen and understand what it is like to live with prejudice, unfair treatment, false accusations, and disproportionate violence because of their skin colour, or their religion, or their accent. This takes courage. It requires overcoming our fears.
As followers of Jesus, will we ask ourselves if we will step into the places where the gospel is contradicted and say ‘It does not have to be this way?’ but, bucking the system also means recognising the need for embrace, love and mercy in the one does the victimising. It might sound impossible and unbearably weak, but it really contains the strength of God. We refuse to be remade by the evil done to us. We reject the stifling identity a win-lose world might thrust upon us. We accept that our identity comes from God. Because we belong to God, and manifest God’s image and likeness, we are able to work so that others – the just and the unjust – may be free.
Jesus calls us to courage. The Holy Spirit at Pentecost will not go away. Will we speak out individually and as church? Jesus breathed on the disciples but what do we breathe into our world, and our relationships by our encounters, by our presence. So how will we use the breath that we have been given? Will we be responsible for how we breathe? How will we use our voice?