21st Sunday of the Year
Our call is to be in relationship – to encounter the God who is at the heart of the universe through Jesus. This relationship involves being in solidarity with God's chosen ones: the least among the people. When we choose God we also choose those who are precious to God. This can be difficult when we witness or even experience situations of cruel violence and the destruction of innocent life. The choice involves an ongoing recommitment to the God who has and continues to liberate and be a source of life for us as we deal with seemingly endless situations of injustice.
In She Who Is, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ writes: ‘The fundamental sin is exploitation, whether it be expressed in the domination of male over female, white over black, rich over poor, strong over weak, armed military over unarmed civilians, human beings over nature. These analogously abusive patterns interlock because they reset on the same base: a structure where an elite insists on its superiority and claims the right to exercise dominative power over all others considered subordinate, for its own benefit.’ The God of Joshua and the God of Peter is a God of liberation from all such exploitation.
Joshua today calls the people to embrace the same power that stood by them and liberated them in their past. This God ‘has eyes for the just, and ears their cry’; who is ‘close to the broken hearted; and saves those who are crushed in spirit’ (Ps 34:15-18). But, do we choose the old system and old ways of doing things or do we choose God the liberator. In Jesus, God still works through the Eucharist not just as an isolated body but through what Jesus did with that body. It consisted of radical actions such as befriending the outcast, caring for the sick, being hospitable to the excluded and loving those on the underbelly of society. It consisted of living in solidarity with a colonised and oppressed people. The Eucharist is a call to action and a statement of solidarity. In Enfleshing Freedom, M. Shawn Copeland, says that this solidarity teaches us to imagine, hope for, and create new possibilities that compel us to embrace with love and hope those who are despised and marginalised. The challenge is to care for those who share in Jesus’ suffering and oppression. This can be too radical for us to follow. The words, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ do not suggest something ‘hard to understand’ but something ’hard to tolerate.’ What Jesus said was too confronting and disturbing. Many who had just benefited from a free feed wanted a ’wealth, and prosperity gospel’ forgetting that Jesus himself had no home, suffered abuse and harassment and was crucified. They did not want to receive what he had to offer that comes through self-giving.
Joshua showed the people the gods and images they had inherited from the past. These continue to dominated, controlled, hung on to power and were blind to injustice. They still are. James Carroll (in Jerusalem, Jerusalem) says the rejection of a religion that cozies up to injustice can, in biblical terms, amounts to idolatry, for in regard to women, as to many others, they have betrayed themselves by accepting transient cultural forms such as patriarchy as divinely mandated. They are lame duck gods that support arrogant heterosexism, closeted racism, unashamed homophobia, rampant and recycled patriarchy and greedy corporatism. In the midst of this Joshua calls us to look to God who liberates us from various forms of slavery [guilt, fear, vengeance, etc.] and the one who preserves us and struggles with and for us. Like Jesus’ words today about his flesh and blood, this is hard teaching. A politics of fear based on lies is seeping into many aspects of our lives. People, such as refugee advocates, lawyers, health professionals, psychologists and some church leaders, who resist this find themselves marginalised. We knowingly harm the bodies and psyches of innocent people who deserve help.
As we read the scriptures, pray and open our eyes we realise that wherever anyone is hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, sick, or imprisoned, we are challenged and commanded to respond. God has responded by becoming flesh and living among us. God became human to become one of us which is expressed in many powerful material, physical and earthy metaphors: water; bread and fish; shepherds, sheep, and lambs; tears and death; wombs, births, and rebirths. Eating the Word made flesh and drinking his blood can be life changing and dangerous. It requires giving oneself for another. It means becoming what we eat - being like Jesus: love in the flesh, food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, clothing for the naked, a friend to the stranger and the sick, freedom to the captives, salt of the earth, light in the darkness, bread for the world.
When many walked away, Jesus asks his own, ‘What about you? Are you leaving too?’ Peter answers ‘Where would we go? To whom would we go? You have for us the words of life. For Peter, Jesus was part of the liberation they sought. Jesus was the nourishment needed for the revolutionary new world we are headed for. Peter’s ‘To whom can we go?’ is not only put to Jesus but to us as individuals and as communities. It is put to us by the refugee, the homeless person, the person in aged care, the unemployed person or the one just out of prison, our Pacific neighbours facing environmental and cultural threats through climate change and global warming. This is not a meal taken in solitude but shared in fellowship. The Jesus who says, ‘I am the Bread of Life,’ says ‘I was hungry and you fed me.’ (Mt 25, 35). To eat this Bread is to assimilate something of the spirit of the Beatitudes and the law of love. It is to drink the life, the practices and words of Jesus. This is how we are nourished by God’s life to continue the work of building God’s reign of peace and justice.
What about us? What difference has taking the Bread of life made in responding to injustice in the church and country? What difference has it made in our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers? What difference has it made to receiving the gifts our First Nations’ people have and continue to offer us? What difference does it make to us raising our voices about vilifying language against ethnic and other groups: What difference has it made to challenging threats our government makes against other nations? What difference does it make in our ability to recognise Jesus’ other presences among people who are dispossessed? What changes in our way of thinking and acting?
Let us remember today the vulnerable, threatened, tortured people who come to us hungry for life, for freedom, for security, for peace. There are times when we think it is just too much trouble, or too dangerous, or perhaps just not worth the effort. The disciple of Jesus has to respond to the question: ‘Where shall we go to?’ Often we can look for God in the wrong places. The gospels shows us where this God in Jesus is to be found. As we have been limited in sharing in the Eucharist due to the present restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic, many people are finding that though the church is very much the body of Christ, it is not about four walls or Zoom or livestreaming but about people. They are finding that it is outside the church that the body of Christ is found and lives. It is amongst us. Jesus embraced the human condition instead of running away from it. His humanity expressed his divinity. It did not contradict it. We are to find God here in our lives so that we can experience God in the thick of it. We experience God: in the deepest recesses of our humanity. If we take seriously the call to remain faithful to Jesus, we cannot avoid ‘eating his flesh and drinking his blood’ – taking the life, the values, the mission, the purposes, the attitudes, and his priorities into our hearts. We never have an excuse to stop loving, and we cannot justify putting others down or condemning them
There have been constant reminders of the brokenness of humanity and society before us each day of each week. On August 11, 2014 Robin Williams died. The next day, Russell Brand in powerful article, ‘Robin Williams’ divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world’ (Russell Brand, The Guardian. August 12, 2014.) wrote: ‘Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times? No academic would co-sign a theory in which the tumult of our fractured and unhappy planet is causing the inherently hilarious to end their lives……’ Williams was part of the sad narrative. His fame and accolades could not defend him against mental illness and addiction. We live in a world that is increasingly negligent of human values where our brightest lights extinguish themselves. Can we be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful and more mindful in the broken places of our world where negligence, conflict and hatred exist? If we turn inward to the light that resides within us and then turn it outwards so that can hold up others who are suffering and fragile. Russell Brand rightly says the world is broken and that we are broken too. The readings tells us that there is one who knows that brokenness in the deepest part of each one of us and can meet us there. He is God’s love ‘in the flesh’ and may we too be God’s love in the flesh.
God beyond our reckoning,
make your dwelling-place with us,
and move us beyond our own limited glimpses of your presence.
Dwell with us also in our struggles against all that oppresses us,
that we may not demonise others
but call them, with us, to grow beyond where we are. Amen.
Out in Scripture