Reflections for Second Sunday
There is no set formula by which God calls us or speaks to us. Nor are there any God-forsaken places or persons despite Nathaniel’s comments today. Whatever we do, God is always facing toward us. There is hope for transformation in the most dire of situations and most despicable people. A boy, Samuel, in his pyjamas is called during a time of corruption and a leadership vacuum. He lived with the priest Eli whose eyesight grew dim suggesting blindness and lying down suggesting passivity.
Things were ‘not in order’ and Eli had failed to confront the corruption in his family and in the Temple system. Turning a blind eye to corruption and failure to keep the peace made him complicit in the corruption. Blindness and passivity was evident in the face of institutional abuse of children. God has whispered in the ears of a child, and has whispered in the ears of those would listen that change is necessary. We have seen evidence of this in the calls by women and men, not in leadership, to be listened to and for change in the church in the lead up to the Plenary Council. Will those in leadership listen to the voice of ordinary people who have much to teach us? God has always seems to speak through the most unlikely or seemingly insignificant people whom the powerful and influential among us tend to dismiss. In 2018 a young 16-year-old Palestinian girl Ahed al Tamimi has become well known for her resistance to the Israel military to protect her own land. She is best known for appearances in images and videos in which she confronts Israeli soldiers. She used her eight months in prison as an opportunity to study international law and hopes to one day lead cases against Israel in international courts. In 2014, Malala Yousafzai, after being shot, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and the World’s Children's Prize for her courageous and dangerous fight in Pakistan for girls' right to education, and end to child labour and slavery. She was shot in an attempt to stop her but she was not to be put off. Greta Thurn, the Swedish school girl who has awakened a movement for the protection of the planet by her sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament. Today, January 2, she tweeted her ‘deepest gratitude to everyone fighting to wake people up to the climate and ecological crisis. The reason we're still in this mess is because we're outnumbered by those telling us to go back to sleep, saying sufficient action is taken when it's not. In 2021, let's change this!’
The call to us is to open our eyes and be awake. In Samuel, Eli’s cowardice and complicity is exposed in the call of a child as we have seen over and over again children exposed blindness, greed, disregard for God’s gift of Creation and for the wellbeing of all living being.
To be a follower we need to listen. We can only do that when we remain close to those on the peripheries, when are connected to the realities of human life and experience. This is where we hear the ‘whispers’ of God – the ‘whispers’ that come in the events of life and the stories of people – especially those on the edges, the poor, marginalised, oppressed. God’s call is for us to be engaged in the struggles and issues of people in the world. When we are invited to ‘come and see’ it is not just about geography but finding Jesus living in these places and amongst these people. Mere church attendance or just living up to certain standards of morality does not cut it. It is by engaging with the social and political issues today to create structures of justice and peace in our world….those very things that politicians and church leaders criticise in those who take following of Jesus seriously. That resistance can also come from family, friends, colleagues as well as government.
The managers of the status quo want to reassure us they have everything in hand. This is the way of many of our politicians. They mouth words of peace and prosperity which has nothing to do with the reality of many of our people not to mention complicity in their injustices and corruption by hiding the truth and telling lies: whether in Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, climate change, treatment of Indigenous people, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, prejudice against gays and lesbians, blaming the poor and unemployment for their conditions. Samuel was born into such a corrupt climate and we live in such a climate. Yet, God’s call invites Samuel [and us] to be part of new future. Part of that future involves turning towards one another in love rather than turning against each other in hate and fear. Creating a new future is in our hands and we do it differently. A German abbess has been in conflict with the law for the assistance she had given to asylum seekers facing deportation - ‘I have no choice, I have to help.' Mother Mechtild Thurmer has twice been fined and even threatened with prison for "aiding and abetting an unauthorised stay" of an asylum seeker which she insists is legal. She says, ‘There’s a huge difference between what you are taught at school about human rights or women’s rights and when I am actually facing a woman, looking into her eyes and seeing these scars or this fear and anxiety and desperation. Then I have no choice, I have to help, I have to help, as much as I can.’
Samuel's story is our story. He represents us. God’s voice can easily be drowned out by our noisy, consumer ridden and individual world. We need to find pockets of silence to listen to God's voice, what is in Christ’s heart, and hear the call to engage with the world. Like the people mentioned above, it is important that we not be put off by those who want us to avert our eyes from responding to people in need. Samuel’s task was to keep the Temple flame alive. It was the sign of God’s presence. How do we keep the flame of God’s presence, care, compassion alive in the world when it gets dark?
Christ is forever passing by and inviting us to discover where he lives. His life ‘open for inspection under many guises’. He invites us to come and see him, homeless and hungry sleeping on pavements and in doorways in the wet and the cold; to come and see him in hospital, prison, street corner, nursing home, refugee camp, housing commission flats, the boat person, young person trying to make sense of his or her life and or sexuality, the person living with HIV/AIDS, the Aboriginal Australian trying to negotiate our world without losing his/her own culture. God's call is an ongoing affair and often reaches us through the plight of the other. It takes courage to stop and open our hearts and answer the call because it can be disturbing to our lifestyle. God’s call to each of us is never in a vacuum. It always comes in concrete places, experiences, and people.
Paul reminds us that God’s Spirit of love is in our midst – within our lives, relationships, struggles to reconcile and heal, our failures, our attempts in justice and peace making and loving. It is a ministry to the body of the those who are hungry, naked, sick, and alone. Paul audaciously says that we, our bodies, are God’s chosen dwelling places. This is how God approaches us - through our bodies, our relationships and this is where God chooses to reside. Disregard for the sacredness of the body, results in war, sexual slavery of children, physical and mental abuse, commercial greed and economic injustice that deprives human beings of a dignified life.
Nathaniel experiences this in today’s gospel. Though a man of integrity, he thought he knew what was what. And he was sure that nothing but trouble could from Nazareth – a place linked in his mind with all things low and contemptible. The propaganda machine had done a good job on Nazareth, and Nathaniel bought it. That propaganda machine is at work: what it says about Muslims, Iraqis, Hamas, Pacific Islanders, gays and their intentions. Jesus shone a light on his prejudices and complicity in the scapegoating of Nazareth. Jesus invites us to ‘come and see.’ Time and again, the key to that confrontation will be in recognising who we have been scapegoating, and recognising that Christ is identifying himself with the ones we try to cast out. For Nathaniel it was Nazareth. For many it is Muslims, gays, asylum seekers.
Some years ago a dear woman I had known for many years approached me before Mass to me that her son was gay – something I had known for years. When I asked her what she would do, she said that her church says she must send him away. When I asked her what her heart said, she replied, ‘I love him’ Then, I told her to follow her heart which she did. On January 15, we commemorated two people who also followed their hearts – their listening hearts: Martin Luther King Day and the birth of Mary MacKillop. Both in different ways kept the flame of faith alive in their reality by their solidarity with the poor and suffering. Voices told King that nonviolence does not work but he listened to other voices despite facing scapegoating and prejudice as he pleaded with his nation to give up violence in Vietnam and end racial inequality: Pope Francis constantly calls us to respond with nonviolence through our care, fraternity and solidarity with people within and outside the church. Voices told Mary MacKillop not to confront the abuses of church authority and she faced ridicule and excommunication. Listening to Jesus both knew that silence about violence and injustice would not bring about social transformation. They knew in their hearts about ‘the violence of silence’. Despite the dark places that many people live in, there are many who continue to turn towards each other rather than against each other. May our prayerful listening lead to prophetic proclaiming.