Nineteenth Sunday of the Year
At this time cities such as Melbourne and Sydney, not unlike many other cities around the world are still in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its Delta variant. Personal freedom is a precious which should not be taken away by unnecessary policing by the state. But, we must remember that personal freedom need not interfere with the preferential option for the poor or the preferential option for the weakest amongst us. We are meant to be in relationship with others and health is a matter of collective responsibility for those most at risk. This is what we mean by the ‘common good’. This was not evident in the ugly and violent demonstrations this last weekend.
The readings call us to live with grace, integrity and compassion for both friend and enemy. Small, daily acts of love and forgiveness, honesty and compassion make significant differences in our lives and we are invited to make them the habits of our lives. In the reading from Ephesians, the true follower of Christ is called to be honest with others, to speak in edifying ways, avoiding aggression, shouting and slander and choosing instead forgiveness and compassion.
During this pandemic communion has been limited where we have been able to connect through livestream services. People have found ways of connecting and being nourished beyond the doors of the church through conversation and sharing the Word which has become for many ways in which God touches us. Even before the pandemic people have had limited access to communion because they live long distances from a church or there is priest available to offer the Eucharist and others have been deprived by narrow church rules. What do we do when the Eucharist is not available to us? How do we still ensure that the bread is still given to our brothers and sisters on the margins and to those without access? Social media has forced distance on us and makes possible the rapid screening of people for the polarising issues they may hold – sexuality, abortion, guns, politics – and we evaluate them on basis of their responses to these. We can also do that with the theological approaches that we hold with the Eucharist which should be the one thing to unite us. So many never make it to the table because they have been evaluated and judged from a distance.
Despite declarations of being open to all and the gospel being for all and our language about diversity and inclusiveness these are shifted when we know what believe. Theology becomes an easy barrier between ourselves and those we consider less enlightened. Despite his principles and convictions, these were never allowed to cloud the way he looked at people whether it was a Pharisee, a Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus or the Roman centurion. As one writer puts is: these were not social constructs: they did not represent hot button issues; they were not stereotypes; they were not religious talking points. They were not opportunities to debate theology issues. These were personal stories of people fashioned in God’s image. They were seen by Jesus and he offered them the gift of proximity and invited them to communion. (John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table). Jesus’ actions of sharing meals with tax collectors and those deemed unclean by society, cause us to ask ourselves, ‘How can I be living bread to my brothers and sisters on the margins just as Jesus was?’
We need to ask ourselves how we can be bread for one another. How we can provide strength to others in need encouragement, who may be grieving, who may be anxious and fearful? There is division in our world, tremendous sadness, a desire to be seen or heard, there is loneliness, and loss caused by the present pandemic and racism. The call to be bread for one another is loud and clear. We are all invited to the table to be compassion, to be forgiveness, to be love, and to be kindness to others. To be these signs of Jesus to one another and to our brothers and sisters on the margins wherever we find ourselves. They are about finding God’s presence hidden in plain sight – within our own flesh (as Jesus put it). We may not know the full power of the gift that God offers us in having the gift of one another, but we can find out each day. We have to show up ready to take, give and receive our daily bread and be open to surprise.
We find Jesus today challenged for saying that he is the bread of life, and reveals God, and offers fullness of life to those who come to him. There will always be some who will criticise or try to bring us down for our trying to be bread for others, but the psalm today reminds us that God will hear us when we call out. Jesus’ response is powerful but also invitational. The Letter to the Ephesians today offers simple, practical guidelines for community life: how we speak to one another and treat one another is important, because it builds our life together, and reflects God’s presence among us. We are called to reflect the heart of Christ’s compassion and gentleness and love those who oppose us. It is a challenge to embrace forgiveness, love and honesty in a radical, counter-cultural way, and allow God’s love to flow through us to touch and restore our neighbours, our communities and our world. The choice to live like Christ – the Bread of Life – each day can have positive consequences for our world.
Jesus instructed his followers to love their enemies, be compassionate as God is compassionate, receive and welcome children, serve the poor, feed the hungry, and take up the cross, yet it does not happen. Rather than do as Jesus says, his followers still take up the ‘sword’ [guns, tanks, nuclear weapons, or the tongue]. They still reject calls to welcome the stranger and in fact make like desperate for them as we have done to asylum seekers and refugees. They still reject the call to care for creation and find excuses not to do so. At the moment, 17,000 personnel from a number of countries are engaged in war games in the north of Australia. These only increase tension between our neighbours rather dialogue. These games are all about war and preparing for war. This weekend we commemorate the 76th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Jesus’ teachings must take hold as political, scientific, religious, and business discourse becomes more vitriolic and aggressive. We operate from a paradigm of conflict, name-calling, shouting, shaming, dishonesty and emphasising the negative in others. We devalue those with whom we disagree, and aggressively force through our agendas. Where the Bread of Life is a call to unity (not uniformity) through reconciliation, this negative posturing promotes disengagement in all aspects of religious, political and social life. There is a growing inability to deal with problems because a lack of collaboration and solidarity where the greater good loses to special interests.
As Jesus is the Bread of Life, we are to be little ‘breads of life’ to our families, friends, neighbours, strangers, and even enemies.. By extending Jesus’ invitation to others, others find life and compassion, forgiveness and restoration through us. It begins in small ways.
This is not easy. The US journalist, Chris Hedges, in I Don’t Believe in Atheists, suggests that fundamentalist atheists (e.g., Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) share similar traits as fundamentalist evangelicals, who like Jesus’ disciples wanted to rain down fire and brimstone on those Samaritans who refused to accept Jesus. Hedges says they also often share a lack of a sense of humour. Whilst Jesus tried to teach us how to live in peace through the practice of nonviolence, we prefer to kill the enemy, ridicule those we disagree with, marginalise those are different to us. 4th Christians abandoned nonviolent resistance to war by allying themselves with Constantine. It seems that today, Christians and Catholics unleash destruction on other countries – whether in Africa, the Philippines, in Afghanistan, Syria, and Latin American countries. Practicing Christians can sit at computers and unleash unmanned drone bombers over other countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan and bring hell upon mostly unarmed and innocent civilians who could be working the land or getting married or attending a funeral.
The question we face today is: do we have faith in Jesus? If ‘yes,’ then how does it affect our daily lives? Are we the change we want to see in the world (pace Gandhi)? Are we different because we believe in Jesus? Are we the ‘bread of life’ to others that reveal God in Jesus?
We have a unique calling: to be truth-tellers – not perpetuate fake news. We need to put away falsehoods that war and violence are solutions to conflict; that we are better than anyone else; that our wealth and prosperity is not related to hunger and poverty elsewhere in the world or the dispossession of First Nations people; that our carbon emissions do not affect the peoples of the Pacific.
Our faith is not about just us but about justice and right relationships. What we share in the Eucharist does not make us better than others, but opens us to a responsibility - to be instruments of God's gracious and peace filled presence in the world. This points to how we ‘companion’ our sisters and brothers; how can we break and share our bread with them. What ‘bread’ do they need? Is it the bread of compassion, understanding, encouragement and listening? Is it the bread of food, medicine, education, housing, job, protection or security? Is it the bread that challenges them to open their eyes to really see their sisters and brothers in all their dignity? If food is such an important sign of God’s goodness, then ensuring that ‘hungry’ people are fed is central to our witness for justice. This is what turns the world upside down which makes for peace, and the responsorial psalm brings to mind the Song of Mary [Magnificat] where God is praised for raising up the lowly and bringing down the powerful. A revolution indeed!