Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020
Sr Donna L. Ciangio, OP tells the story of a small boy leaving the house with Twinkies and juice boxes. His mother asks, where he is going. He says, ‘I am going to find God.’ He heads off. At a local park he sits on a bench next to a homeless woman. He offers a Twinkie and a juice box to the woman. Both eat, talk and and enjoy each other. Then, he sets off for home and the woman rejoins her friends. When his mother asks, ‘Did you find God?’ he responds, ‘Yes, and God is a woman!’ When the woman joins her friends, she says, ‘I met God in the park today – and he is a little boy!’ Both, the boy and the woman, manifested God where they were, and how they related to each other. ‘Where I am you also may be’ and ‘Whoever believes in me will do the work that I do.’
Both characters reflect the spaciousness of God’s heart seen in the Gospel and the first reading. A question for us is how our faith interacts with whatever crisis strikes our world, and our engagement with them. The readings challenge us to participate in God’s reconciling and healing work while trusting God for the outcome in our lives and world.
When Jesus says, ‘Do our hearts become troubled’ he is reassuring, comforting and encouraging people for whom Good Friday seems to be a daily occurrence. They face violence in word and action, natural disasters, everyday poverty and neglect and now a pandemic which impacts more on people who are poor and vulnerable. In the Philippines, Brazil and other places, lay people, religious and priests are murdered by guerrilla groups and government agents for their work for freedom and human rights. We find people committed to others in the rural areas of the Philippines or the Amazon or hospitals and shopping malls. God’s reign of justice breaks through often in people and places we least expect: in every neighbourhood; hospices and hospitals; among those who live and work in solidarity with people seeking asylum and though unable to do much for them at least listen to their stories and believe them.
As there are many rooms in God’s house, there are many ways of coming to God and loving God and neighbour. First Nations people, people from the Middle East and Asia, have always understood that a principle responsibility is hospitality and welcome – feeding people and making room or space for others. When we think of our Earth as God’s reign, the homeland of the Creator, there is room for everybody if we share. Jesus’ words are not just words of comfort for the dying, but a challenge for living communities and live life to the full. Radical hospitality invites us to actively make room for the marginalised, the excluded, the vulnerable, and the outsider.
Today’s gospel invites us to be so grounded, ‘at home’, in our sense of belonging to God that nothing deters us from acting each day with passion and power. It also assures those who do not always feel at home – the rejected and outsiders – of the One who works through us in ways that many people cannot imagine. We belong in God’s house. Jesus is promising us that he will make room, to make hospitable, liveable, and welcome, God’s reign here on earth. Jesus prepares a place for his disciples - and we are also called to make a place for others.
God’s house there is a dwelling place for every troubled heart not after death where there is a celestial dormitory for ‘good behaviour’ but a connection where God intersects our own: where mercy and forgiveness, justice, generosity, compassion, healing, love, beauty, wisdom, hope, courage, joy, intimacy become the dwelling places for troubled hearts today. Whenever we live out these qualities in our lives we take up residence in God’s house, God’s world. Despite the present lockdown during this worldwide pandemic, despite our troubled hearts, we live in God’s dwelling place with an illuminated sign calling out to others, ‘Rooms available.’
The God Jesus embodies is not distant from the problems of healthcare, hunger and homelessness. ‘He who sees me, sees the Father.’ Jesus embodies God that can be seen and touched and touches us. It may, usually is, not found in churches, synagogues, and mosques but on the street where Jesus lived among a colonised and despised people. Here, in Jesus, we find God revealed in child of an unwed teenage mother, among homeless people and asylum seekers, the prostitutes and untouchables, and people in prison. God is found in the lives and needs of the poor, the ill, and despised and calls out to us. Do we have any spare rooms? The emphasis is on this world – on eating together, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, on elimination of poverty, and sharing all things in common. That was Jesus authentic Way. It is our Way as well. This occurs when we make room for others, recognise each person with dignity rather than fear. So how do we make room in our lives and churches for people who are different to us and how do we let go of the fear of others now during this pandemic? Jesus calls us to follow him as he makes room for us and for others. And he challenges us to do likewise.
Miroslav Volk, in The Spacious Heart says sin is about excluding another from one's heart and world rather than defilement from purity:
‘Sin is a refusal to embrace others in their otherness and a desire to purge them from one's world, by ostracism or oppression, deportation or liquidation… the exclusion of the other is the exclusion of God.’
The reading from Acts manifests a scandalous discrimination in the community where some members were favoured over the poor and vulnerable [widows] who were neglected or unjustly treated. How contemporary is that with tax cuts for the rich. People profiting from this ‘disaster’ (the pandemic). People who worked in this country but excluded from government assistance because they are non-citizens, temporary visitors, foreign students and workers despite their contributions to this country and their taxes. The latter have been told to go home. No rooms in this house!!
When we see Jesus, we see God at work. He reveals God's presence and love. We see Jesus when a person reflects the heart of Jesus. Those who by their presence and compassion stand in solidarity with people who are excluded and victimised by economic and political systems and thus driven deeper into poverty. That ‘spacious heart’ Miroslav Volf refers to challenges us as we approach Sorry Day and the Week of National Reconciliation later this month.
This is possible if we do not allow ourselves to be held captive to the old order with its narratives that fail to see reality through the eyes of the so-called ‘victim’. This is the only true narrative. We need to free ourselves from our limited perception of things and the lifestyles and agendas that narrow our perceptions. If God's Spirit is to breathe through us then we must break from the gods of militarism, nationalism, and materialism. Jesus offers us new notions of power - the power to serve and not master, to die but not to kill, to bring order and not dominate.
Though Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled!’ sometimes our hearts need to be troubled to preserve our humanity. Are they troubled when we do not appreciate that all things are interconnected? Are they troubled when more and more buckets of money are spent on armaments for more buckets of blood? Are they troubled when we go to war based on lies? Are they troubled when we use more and more of the earth’s resources and cause more damage to the environment? Are they troubled when we do not recognise how our history, national policies, and consumerism contributes to the suffering of others? Are they troubled that much of the chocolate we eat has blood on it – the blood and suffering of children used in slavery? Are they troubled when we find it difficult to empathise or see or feel the suffering of others or walk away from injustice? Are they troubled when we ignore the call for reconciliation because we fail to look at the hard lessons of our history?
Today’s gospel has a double edge to it. It is both comforting and challenging. It points to the space God makes for us but also that space we are to make for others. It points to God’s passion for humanity but also for our passion in which we find our humanity. There is room enough for everyone! Yes, ‘there are many rooms in God’s house.’
Fr Claude Mostowik msc