Thirteenth Sunday of the Year
Today’s gospel contains some strong and jarring language (hyperbole) as the journey into living the values of God’s Reign continues. Jesus, heading for Jerusalem, via Samaria, sees things as never before. On this journey, going through Samaritan villages, not the done thing, he opposition from people in Samaria who were considered as half-baked Jewish people. Who is this ‘human being’ who exists on society’s fringes, not belonging, rejected, censured, finally executed, and ‘taken up’ (Luke 9:51)? He comes as man of nonviolence as he tells his disciples who want to bring down fire on the people to respond to their inhospitably. Little has changed as we observe nations and peoples taking up arms for perceived or real opposition.
The use of hyperbole reinforces the belief that God’s reign, the highest priority for Jesus’ followers, and incarnates God’s continuing passionate love for people and all creation. The call is for us to align our hearts with the priorities of God’s heart – the centrality of peace, justice, care and compassion for those God identifies with; and that God is present in our interactions.
So who is this human being? We see that Jesus is heading towards the horrors of a crucifixion. He has challenged the leaders of the people about corruption and collusion with the Roman occupiers. He criticised ill- treatment of the poor and marginalised. He condemned the religious and ethical burdens imposed on people. He had also challenged the occupiers by insisting that God is above Caesar. As with the people in Samaria, Jesus faced opposition from religious people who considered him a drunkard and a glutton; for being with being with prostitutes, women, sick people, and socially demonised and marginalised people. In his continual cry for mercy, Pope Francis’ calls us to get our hands dirty and not be afraid to reach out to what he calls society’s ‘untouchables’ whoever they are. These attitudes and behaviours need to form part of responding to Jesus’ question to Peter, ‘who do you say that I am?’ Last Friday on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we turn to that heart that also calls us to be on earth the heart of God. It is the heart that hangs out with LGBTIQ people, grieves with mothers and fathers whose children are victims of violence and war, listens to and reaches out to abused women, make contact with people who are trafficked and working in various forms of bondage on farms, brothels, sweatshops or fishing boats, visits people in prison to remind them they are not forgotten, sits in the boat with people seeking asylum and inspiring rescuers to be courageous in the face of sanctions, and is alongside each one of us to encourage us to be loving towards all by seeking out those who are missing from our circles.
The disciples often failed miserably. They failed to understand people and relationships, not rules, codes, etc., were important to Jesus. It was service, not power. It was peace building not violence or retaliation. This misunderstanding was very clear when James and John thought that the Samaritans should be struck down for having rejected Jesus’ teaching. Their violence-driven response is challenged and rejected by Jesus, but we know that many world leaders who purport to be followers of Jesus miss this point. They also fail when walls and divisions are erected: man and woman, insider/outsider, Jew/Palestinian, Christian/non-Christian, gay and straight, Indigenous/non-Indigenous.
When Jesus says, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God’ (Lk. 9:62), we could ask who has not at some time looked back or got wobbly in their faith or questioned what they were doing. It even happened in January 1956 to Martin Luther King as a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, seemed to be collapsing and his life repeatedly threatened. He did not give up as we well know and ultimately was assassinated for it. This story is repeated in the lives of Oscar Romero, Berta Caceres, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Daniel Berrigan and so many others. It was repeated and is repeated by so many women and men who raise their voices and put their lives on the line for refugees, people with disability, and Creation.
This week I attended a book launch (Acts of Cruelty) by a religious woman who has worked tirelessly with people who without help, without visas, to find justice in the face of government intransigence and bloody-mindedness. Though we feel like giving up, we do not have that luxury. People seeking asylum, the poor, the socially challenged, people facing the effects of climate change, people who are trafficked do the have luxury to give up. So what is Jesus asking? He wants us to commit to the good news for the poor, by making the priorities of his heart our priorities and knowing that he is with us when we waver.
Following Jesus has social, economic, political, and sometimes even legal implications. Elisha and Elijah heard their calls to get into politics and religion whilst working in the fields. Like them we are called to break new ground and kick the dust. We need to break new ground in responding to areas in our broken world, our nation, our city, our neighbourhood, our family that need healing by our love, compassion, forgiveness, nonviolence, and justice. We need alternative ways of responding. Rather than indifference, we need care; rather than violence, we need a just peace and active nonviolence; and we need compassion, instead of hardness of heart. It is when we walk with and sit with people that we hear their cries as they live with violence, hatred, persecution, neglect and then respond with tenderness, compassion, and real dignity. They invite us to dialogue, to collaborate, to be compassionate. Despite sentiments expressed to the contrary, compassion, tenderness, and care are signs of real strength and have the power to heal and touch people in their broken places.
Paul tells us to ‘Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ Following rules, adhering to dogma and doctrine is not following Jesus. Following Jesus means standing alongside people. It means to be free to serve, to love, to make peace through patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul’s call to stand firm is a reminder that some beliefs, attitudes, social customs, and practices can enslave us because they put walls around ourselves and hinder our engagement with other people. For Paul, ‘love of neighbour’ is part of our discipleship. It is about taking the lead and making peace: stop ‘biting and devouring one another’ within our families, communities, workplaces, nationally and internationally. The slogan ‘What would Jesus do?’ invites us to look anew at ‘the cost of discipleship’ today. It challenges our many silences.
The call to follow Jesus is a call to lead: to take the initiative, to be imaginative and creative in building a more just and peaceful world. It means to be out in front, to stick one’s head out, and to get in the way. For most of us there will be no need for heroics and huge paid, but we are still called to lead, to inspire to act, to reclaim the strength that compassion and care are. May we be known not for what we are against, for our fear and lack of understanding, but for what we cherish in the life of Jesus-his mercy, his compassion, his peace and call to love publicly by our justice making.
We call to mind your deeds, O God,
and the faithful acts of those who have gone before us.
Fill us with the courage
to maintain deep friendships,
to forgive those who would condemn us,
to embrace freedom with responsibility,
to walk boldly in integrity in the bodies you have given us,
In the name of Jesus, the Christ.