Fifth Sunday in Lent
What is God up to? According to Jeremiah religion is getting a complete makeover from something formal, external and calcified to something alive to God that can touch peoples’ lives. Jeremiah speaks of God’s desire for a new and more intimate covenant; a deeper commitment. It is gut-located, heart-centered, and mind-penetrated. In his Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius invites us to imagine God looking with great love upon our world where some ‘[people are] being born and being laid to rest, some getting married and others getting divorced, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the happy and the sad, so many people aimless, despairing, hateful, and killing, so many undernourished, sick, and dying, so many struggling with life and blind to any meaning.
With God, I can hear people laughing and crying, some shouting and screaming, some praying, others cursing . . . ‘ From this place of looking lovingly upon humanity, God hatches a wild plan to send Jesus among us in order to be as close to us as possible. It is a reckless love and compassion that takes over Jesus’ life and is expressed in wanting to do what we do, eat what we do, experience what we experience. We are called to be who God is – to be God’s heart enfleshed on earth. This is who Jesus is who makes room for everybody and calls for a vastness in our hearts and perspective. Pope Francis coming from the periphery of the world calls us to go to the periphery. He displays unwavering solidarity with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised despite opposition. That is where can see Jesus! He wants us to do something new. He challenges the Church to abandon the security of the status quo and to embrace the risk of vulnerability where we are listening and open to the other. He is calling us to shift from the cramped world of self-absorption to a more expansive place where we are all ‘kin’.
Without this vulnerability, there is no room for people whether victims or victimisers in our world. world. Without it, we cannot resemble God’s expansive compassion that stands with the poor and vulnerable in profound respect rather than judging them for how they carry it. Jesus eats with these people and renders them acceptable. He is not a man for others but with others who does not just feel the pain of others but brings himself into their world and erases margins and barriers.
God is forever creating a community of people who know they are forgiven and have a calling in the world. This new covenant is manifest in the arrival of Jesus, God with us. Christ's ministry was a ministry of reckless love which challenges but does not terrorise; inclusive not partisan; welcomes the stranger rather than scorns the other for being different or unacceptable (adulterers, tax gatherers, neurotics and psychotics, alcoholics, poor people, beggars, lepers, asylum seekers, people of other cultures, people of diverse sexual orientations, not even his detractors, betrayers or enemies).
Though solidarity and humanity can seem to take a backward step at times, we must recognise that there is a growth in nonconformity where voices are saying ‘Another world is possible’. It is made possible by people giving of themselves, sometimes their lives, for others to create a radically different world order. People are waking up and acting on what they see and hear. People are finding the courage to resist outrageous laws.
The Letters to the Hebrews reveals a very human Jesus who struggled to be obedient to God and his mission. In that struggle we also see a God who does not tire of the heartbroken or those who fail and who offers us a second and third chance. This is what God is up to. Brené Brown in ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ connects power and vulnerability rather than vulnerability versus power. Many people try to avoid vulnerability because it is often associated with people without power, people in harm’s way, and the weak places and points where we are least protected and easily hurt. Engaging in methods of self-protection - guarding against pain, choosing safer paths, seeking certainty, choosing acceptance over authenticity – lead to self-isolation. She concludes that if vulnerability leaves us open to pain, shame, and rejection, it also leaves us open to love, acceptance, and belonging. This is the vulnerability of God too.
Leonard Cohen says that there is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in. Joanna Macy encourages us not be afraid to allow our hearts to be broken open. That is how the world gets in and healing begins. This is the spirituality of the heart and how a vulnerable God can love us. God chooses vulnerability expressed in relationship with people, forgiveness, and love. God does not just offer us love but shows us how it is done.
Last week we heard that ‘God so loved the world that God sent God's only Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for us.’ This is the logic of God’s reign. To explain this love unto death, Jesus uses a simple image: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.’ We are back to vulnerability. If the grain dies, it sprouts and brings forth life, but if it shuts itself up in its little husk and keeps its vital energy to itself, it remains sterile. This is the dynamic that makes the life of a person who suffers motivated by love something fertile and life giving. It cannot be imposed. Whoever clings selfishly to his life, will lose it; whoever knows how to surrender it generously, will generate more life.
God is still writing on people’s hearts – people from every race, religion and nation. The media has given us many powerful examples of people from all social backgrounds who dedicated themselves to helping others during the Covid-19 pandemic. On Wednesday (March 24, 1980) we remember again St. Oscar Romero who was murdered for his solidarity with the poor, the human rights defenders and church people oppressed and for speaking out. Romero saw the great sin of remaining silent and uninvolved in what was happening around him. He called the church to be in solidarity with those on the margins, which has been the challenge of Pope Francis to us.
People still want to see Jesus but do they see him in our flesh, in our following and witnessing? Jesus’ suffering is a concrete sign of his solidarity, and God’s suffering, with us. The gospel story begins with the Greeks or Gentiles wanting to meet Jesus. Jesus satisfies their curiosity in an unexpected way. He does not confirm his personality cult but refers to himself as an anti-hero and a countercultural force by using the ‘grain’ to speak of his passion, death and resurrection. He does not dwell on success or popularity. Rather than focusing on the spectacular, the powerful and dominant he chose the way of vulnerability expressed in service and solidarity; of a life poured out for others. He shows us, in response to the desire of the Greeks or Gentiles to see him, that he see him among people who are rejected, suffering, unvalued or oppressed. We must go with him if we are to be his followers. It is through these encounters that we find we cannot rest while our sisters and brothers suffer. Pope Francis reminds us, ‘We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our hearts are filled with faces and names! The great goals of our dreams and plans may only be achieved in part…No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force (Fratelli Tutti, 195).’
Sister Antoinette Gutzler MM reflects, ‘[Solidarity]...calls us to acknowledge our own suffering and then to shift our perspective into one that encompasses all the suffering peoples throughout the world. In a world where God is in charge – where Jesus Christ is King of the Universe, we realize that we are not alone – we are all connected. The recognition of that connection gives birth to empathy, compassion and a call to action for the life of the world.’ (President of the Maryknoll Sisters).
Jesus, like so many good, innocent people, suffers violence, injustice, and death. Some of them are known and many are not but, all like the grains of wheat that are crushed and die, become food for us, strengthen us on our journey and in community.