Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
Jesus shows us a world where our lives intersect with others: away from self-focus, self-centredness and self-concern, to relationship, to community. Problems can arise when our worlds intersect. But we also get in touch with who we are. When we allow another person into our lives we allow in the God who calls us to forget self, to leave narrowness, to come alive and be in touch with our hearts. Are we allowed a sheltered world, or is there room in my heart for one more person? The world we live and love in is larger than the one we create. Many people do this by choice. They move out of their comfort zones to engage with people who are homeless, have been drug and alcohol affected, are living with HIV/AID’s, or people out of prison needing to assured they can start again.
Luke’s Gospel stands out for its vision of role reversal in so many ways. In the synagogue Jesus proclaimed: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.’ (Lk 4:18-19) Jesus’ concern for the poor and suffering of the world is clear. Then, we hear how the might are brought down and the lowly lifted up; the rich go hungry and the poor are filled (1:52-53; 16:19-31). Priests and temple officials pass by victims, while the hated Samaritans reveal the meaning of faithfulness (10:25-37). According to Luke, Jesus holds no patience with our assessment of who counts and who does not.
Speaking of turning the world upside down and inside out, we encounter the God who serves. God’s reign takes the world’s attitudes and values as we know it and turns them upside down. It a knack that Pope Francis also has. During World Youth Day, when many were making new friends and pumped by the gathering, the Pope delivered a reality check by reminding the young people of the reality of pain in the world, and insisting that God is found wherever there's suffering. Francis told those thousands gathered that God is found where there is suffering. Where is God, amid the anguish of those who doubt and are troubled in spirit? Or workers oppressed in our country when they are not paid just wages and is justified because it is necessary for profits, the economy and tourism… but not the workers. We have, humanly speaking, no answer to the question, but Francis says that Jesus’ answer is this: ‘God is in them’. Jesus is in them; he suffers in them and deeply identifies with each of them. He is so closely united to them as to form with them, as it were, ‘one body.’’ Francis has also said that our credibility is at stake ‘In welcoming the outcast who suffer physically and welcoming sinners who suffer spiritually..’ As he called on the youth to opt for ‘early retirement’ and not to let anyone tell them they can’t change what’s wrong in the world. I think he says that to all us. Jesus wants to use each one of as a ‘concrete response to the needs and sufferings of humanity…….to be signs of his merciful love for our time…’ One year after the canonisation of Oscar Romero, there are still people who query whether he was assassinated for political reasons or religious. Did he give himself to liberation theology? It is a way to devalue and undermine his contribution and witness in standing with a people who were oppressed today, yesterday and tomorrow. He revealed that Jesus was present in them whose voices cried out for liberation. Was this not Jesus’ mission too?
Can we enter our hearts and allow them to be broken open to allow the world in. It seems to be the only way of healing and transformation. It is behind the ‘devotion’ to the Sacred Heart of Jesus nowadays expressed as Spirituality of the Heart and being God’s heart in the world wherever we are.
Jesus calls us to ‘Dress for action and have your lamps lit’. We are not a static people, but a people on the move, ready for change, new challenges and new experiences. This stance enables us to be ready to respond in new and creative ways to the world’s voices. Luke’s description of God, ‘I shall put on an apron, sit them down at table and wait on them’ flies in the face of any Christian community or Church that seeks its security in clericalism, patriarchy, traditionalism and top down teaching such as dogma rather than finding connection by encounter through the lives of people. We cannot claim to be truly devoted to Christ without being devoted to what is closest to his heart: God’s people and God’s beloved creation.
We constantly see homelessness and displacement. We see the brutality of our penal system whether for juveniles or adults. We still see the inhumane and torture people undergo in offshore detention centres. We see how vulnerable women, and with children, challenged by a system that does not seem to care for their social welfare. We see our government in the interests of security with the USA selling off our sovereignty and committing ‘war crimes’ when it spends more on military hardware rather healthcare, education, aged care, mental health care. Many seem to shrug off the possible displacement of people in our region due to climate change and food insecurity for millions in the world. Many cannot see the incongruency or disconnect in being a Christian and building more fences, strengthening borders to protect our own sense of place as ethnic tensions erupt into religious warfare whilst we shut them out our of minds, hearts and country. What we do today, now, is more important than concerns about the end of the world or personal salvation. Jesus did not speak about these things. The gospel focus is on the present - a life committed to the present and rooted in social justice and encounter.
The call to be awake and ready is a call to live in the present. The present is like a sacrament: it is our moment of encounter with God. To be on guard is not because God might be just around the corner and out to get us but that we do not miss life and what the other is saying to us revealing to us. It is a call to choose life in each moment joyfully and embrace the challenges one comes up against. Pope Francis once said, ‘it is not to go into early retirement’.
We need to be willing to critique ecclesial and social structures; to look again at who is marginalised, weighed down or feels outcast [women, divorcees, ex-priests, gay people; people in irregular relationships; people living with mental illness; indigenous people; non-Anglo people, disabled]. We might need also to critique those in ecclesial authority who so often seem mute when it comes to speaking out on asylum seekers, the rights of Indigenous people and systemic violence and injustice. We do not need more well-trained bureaucrats or masters of ceremony in the church. We do not need strict teachers of so-called orthodoxy or rigid defenders of cold formulas that have little bearing on people’s lives. We need passion for justice and compassion. This comes from coming up close to the ‘flame’ – Jesus. We are co-creators with God. The future does not just ‘happen’. The gospel can perturb and disrupt public order and family harmony. It happens when we, in the spirit of the prophets and Jesus, refuse to believe that ‘all is well’ in the church or society, and keep our eyes open to what is happening in our midst.
We have been given responsibility to encounter the other and different, to serve, to love and to make our world more human rather than control and dominate or bully. Care for our home involves diligently attending to those who suffer, are unloved, undergo injustice and who seek guidance in the ways of the Reign of God. We are called to tend to what is not well in this life. We recognise Jesus when we attend to those he in close contact with: healing and tending the sick, welcoming strangers, eating with outcasts and forgiving wrongs done against us, raising our voices in dissent at injustice amongst us and not just when they affect us. I made reference to military spending. As we commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this month and governments overlook the nuclear dangers around us again, how come so few people would even attend a rally to say ‘never again’. Where else can we do that?
It is in our radical welcoming of the stranger, the poor person, the prisoner, whoever is marginalised with few options that we welcome the ‘master’ home in whatever form he or she takes. As a church, we occupy spaces, places, that are not our own. How do we open our doors wide enough, inviting others into a mutual responsibility for that over which none of us hold ownership, so that we all might have a place?