Fourteen Sunday of the Year 2020
The strong counter-cultural message today takes one’s thoughts to those who benefit from a well off society. Jesus was not addressing the healthy, well off, gifted, employed, and comfortably situated in life but those who in any way shackled to systems and oppress. His words become a mockery for those for whom his message was intended if little was done to ease these burdens. More importantly Jesus words challenge us to look at our values and the world where power and control are often of prime importance.
Looking at the group listening to him, Jesus proclaimed a prayer of thanks that it is the ‘little ones,’ whom God has chosen to receive his message. It is like repeating sayings such as ‘The last shall be first,’ or ‘Unless you become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Jesus identifies with such people and by attributing meekness to such people he is also describing God.
We see that God continually uses the unconventional, the quirky, those on the lowest rung, to speak truth, to bring peace, to shape our faith in new and surprising ways. We see it in the unconventional, countercultural image of the donkey ridden by One who represents the God of peace and confronts those with weapons of war that bully others in the name of peace or freedom from barbarism, tyranny or terrorism. The demons understood that Jesus was a threat to every system of injustice and arrogant people understood his positioning with the ‘meek’ as a biting criticism of their thinking and way of life.
There are those who will not or cannot receive Jesus’ message, yet he still invites all who are burdened to come to him. He reveals God’s connection with us and accessibility to people caught up in the widespread effects of sin such as injustice, all kinds of slavery, conflict and prejudice. Jesus comes into this devastation seeking to bring liberation, justice, peace and mercy. The effects of human brokenness on our world are clearly before us. Our cities manifest this brokenness in the numbers of people who sleep without a home and then are blamed for their predicament and moved on. We do not have to look far to see the marks of dire poverty - unjust economic and power relations between rich and poor; slavery and other forms of human trafficking; the expedient exploitation of the earth’s resources which is a theft and violation of the sacredness of the earth but theft from the caretakers of the earth and future generations; corruption in business and government; lies that lead to wars and wars between nations; conflict between factions, families and individuals. Looking at all this, Jesus’ invitation may seem ineffectual and belief in his liberating reign naive. Alone we cannot address the burdens and struggles we and others face and not succumb to cynicism and pessimism, but allow ourselves to be empowered and inspired by the spirit of Jesus. It is increasingly necessary for us to express our faith in the daily choices that impact the realities of our world, and in extending Jesus’ invitation to others. The problems seem vast but we can all sow seeds of care, welcome, humanity, compassion, kindness.
It seems that the call is for us to let those whose voices are not heard to be amplified, to give them courage, to work alongside the least to ease their burdens and stand against the unjust people and institutions that oppress and enslave. Unbridled militarism and the waste associated with propping it – more noticeable now in the police – eats away at our a peaceful environment and future.
What will we do? Will we accept Jesus’ invitation and come to him to find life, or question the effectiveness of his message and presence, and go our own way? It’s an important choice. I wonder what would happen if Jesus' self-description - ‘I am meek’ – became the guiding principle for parish, dioceses and churches; how our spaces for worship and churches would be designed to proclaim that; and what would our parish bulletins highlight? What difference would it make to the formation of clergy and they comported themselves if they believed that the ‘little ones’ were the privileged interpreters of God's message and that Jesus appears in meekness? No doubt such questions can be dismissed as fantasy or impractical. Let’s remember Paul’s words to us today - ‘You are not in the flesh’ – mean that our values and priorities in life are not those of society where everyone looks out for himself or herself. Your life gets no meaning from status, wealth or even health, but rather from your relationships with one another and with God. That is life in the Spirit.
Zechariah hoped for a time when political leadership would reflect God's character. But, caught by the wisdom of the world and looking to leaders who are strong and authoritative, we may miss the arrival of the one who is meek, self-effacing, and vulnerable sent by God to interrupt business as usual and to ‘command peace’.
The vision of peace, well-being for all, offered in the readings means that healing of past hurts is basic to reconciliation, empathy and friendship. It involves making space so that we can listen and be attentive to others where they feel understood, appreciated and accepted; walking in their shoes and trying to appreciate what life might be like for them. It requires seeing ourselves as interconnected with people, including very much the First Nations people, and with earth. It involves breaking the silence about violations, neglect and damaging mistakes. We need to acknowledge that the broken and weary ones are with us in every family, community and neighbourhood. But what do they make of Jesus’ words: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest……..’ (vv. 28-30). If we represent Jesus, would we say that as well to the Indigenous person, the asylum seekers, the poor or homeless person, the gay person or victim of domestic violence? Would they believe that these words are intended for them?
‘We need some Christians who are as crazy as the Lord…..Crazy enough to dare to change the world from the nightmare it often is into something close to the dream that God dreams for it. And for those who would follow him, those who would be his disciples, those who would live as and be the people of the Way? It might come as a shock, but they are called to craziness.’ (Bp Michael Curry)
Many people had a hard time catching on. The Reign Jesus described was outside their experience of how the world worked that they found his words crazy, unsettling, even dangerous. The educated did not understand what he was talking about. Religious leaders were confounded. Rich people were puzzled. What is important that others did ‘get it’ and caught Jesus' passion. These were the ones who tended to be the ‘little ones’ – the outcasts in society. We find Jesus marveling that those who one might expect would be able to perceive the Kingdom of God are utterly mystified by it, while those considered mere babes in the realm of faith are able to penetrate the very heart of the matter. How can this be? Jesus suspects God must be at work when he prays:
‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,’ he proclaims, ‘for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.’
Over the centuries Christians given us a greater understanding of Jesus' teaching about God Reign. In recent decades, and more recently Pope Francis, we have been reminded that to really understand the God’s Reign, we need to look to and ask the ‘little ones’ of our own society who have special place in God's heart. It means listening to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth whose futures are entwined. Relationship to the poor is not optional and our notion of the poor needs to be continually expanded. This is one important way that God speaks to us and that voice speaks with authority.
To be a Christian means to be like Christ: to love deeply enough, to live expansively enough, to have and to give love and compassion that one might put reputation and even one’s life on the line for others. Jesus’ words today are liberating and life-giving as they distance us from our guilt and the punishing glare of the expectations of others and place us in God’s loving embrace. As Jesus not only liberates us from our own shackles but also from maintaining the status quo and from upholding systems that must be dismantled. We have the ability and the responsibility, through Christ, to create change and transformation in this world.
Fr. Claude Mostowik