Justice Reflections from Fr Claude

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus’ calming the storm is the first nature miracle in Mark. Writing about a storm, Parker Palmer says: ‘It swirls around us as economic injustice, ecological ruin, physical and spiritual violence, and their inevitable outcome, war. It swirls within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others’ (A Hidden Wholeness). We do not need Jesus to ‘command the wind and the waves’ but who can speak ‘Peace be still’ to the struggle for justice today; to our economic crisis alongside the poor; to our ecological crisis and our threatened existence on planet Earth; to the struggle for equality for women and men; to challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia that threatens to capsize the lives of many young people wondering if anyone cares that they are perishing. 

We do not quieten or still voices that cry out for justice but still the forces that threaten people every day. It may seem that being in the boat could be a sacred space. I think we are being opened to see the storm or chaos as a sacred place of action. The storm or chaos signifies the Spirit who comes to renew the face of the earth by raising a commotion, sounding the alarm, and galvanising people to be partners in renewing the world. The storm is a metaphor for the chaos the Spirit causes to attend to the ‘unfinished business of creation, defending the needs of the world, opposing the vandalism and destruction of demented humanity’ (Anthony Gittins, A Presence That Disturbs). In the gospel, the disciples are taken into chaos, not around it because chaos is the raw material from which the cosmos is created. Jesus’ presence is meant to interrupt or disturb when we fail to hear the cries of the poor, or blame victims and/or justify our comforts and achievements. Without downplaying the destructive power of storms, Jesus scolds the disciples for not using their agency to confront its disruptive power and assuming only he can confront such forces. It is about not assuming that these ‘storms’ are beyond our control. For Mark, faith is not something abstract but a way of life consisting of concrete actions. The Spirit acts as a disturbing presence in our lives: to make us notice, to make us think, and to make us act. It makes us aware of injustice - storms and chaos - that many experience and for response where it is not addressed. It cannot happen when everything is calm and comfortable.  We need to look in the face of the ‘other’ – the flesh and blood victim who lies scattered near and far, such as the marginalised poor, homeless people living on our streets, children who have no safe home, addicted people, unemployed or underemployed people, people depending on social welfare, people out of prison, people living with mental illness, the aged and infirm, social outsiders, strangers, migrants and refugees. The Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, said we know God—the sacred—when we encounter the face of the other. He writes, ‘The face is the other who asks me not to let him die alone, as if to do so were to become an accomplice in his death.’  The face of the other demands us to do more and be more for the ones who are not us. Through the other’s face, God invites us into a binding community of love. Stigma can make people invisible. We need to make them - the dispossessed, disinherited, and disaffected – visible again. Love contests the politics of exclusion; it disrupts practices of propriety. Love shrinks the distance between shores. The authentic embrace of difference challenges our values and our moral nerve centre. We Jesus people can foster the spiritual stamina and the moral longing to search for other shores.


We can be discouraged by insensitivity, lies, deceits and the actions of political leaders; the endless violence and wars; climate injustice; and living in an all too human church that at times is unable or slow to change as well promoting prejudice, narrow-mindedness and failing to engage with contemporary issues or step up to challenge injustice. Though called to be audacious, we can be imprisoned by our limitations or being victims of other people’s perceptions. We remain secluded and isolated on our shores. Jesus’ invitation to cross to the other side is a call to leave Capernaum’s familiar shores for the foreign shores of the Gerasenes - where they are strangers. Jesus knew what they were going to encounter on the other side. Many people anchor their lives on familiar shores by committing too much of their energy to cautious preparation—when God may want to move instantaneously. Too often people of conscience and good will deliberate themselves into stagnation. We spend our energy thinking about divine directives and invitations instead of pursuing them. It can be dangerous to spiritualize inaction. We can clutter our hearts with thoughts that weigh down our feet and cuff our hands. Left to ourselves, we would probably stay where we are. It is easier to stay in our comfort zones; to default to our safe and pet theologies; our science (climate change); and to mislabelling others such LGBTI+ people, Muslims and refugees (as was the mustard seed).


Though we, as communities and individuals, face situations bigger than ourselves and where more goes on than we can understand, today’s readings remind us that God’s mercy, wisdom, justice and motivating energy are also bigger and more can happen than we imagine when we trust and allow ourselves to be guided by God’s wisdom. Being calm is such a luxury. Calling for justice is anything but calm. Sometimes Jesus’ call has an intrusive quality.


The miracle was the disciples getting into the boat – not the calming the storm. God’s power is not about controlling creation or people but being in relationship with us; in journeying with us despite our fumbling around. God’s power is in inviting us to build a reign or kin-dom of love, peace and justice. God’s power is not in the obliterating evil but in empowering us to build something good in this world. In Mark, Jesus appears in marginal places - places of transition or risk. He goes spaces such as a graveyard, a deathbed, or on a cross. He places himself at geographical boundary-lands such as the wilderness, mountaintops and across the lake. He goes to politically charged locations like a tax collector’s home and the land outside of Jerusalem during Passover. His ministry in such liminal places opens minds to new possibilities and the freedom to enter a new future where no place is desolate and no one abandoned. This involves welcoming outsiders and disadvantaged people, restoring community, exposing the lies that prop up counterfeit standards of greatness, and defeats death. It means living into a new reality.


Leaving the satisfaction of tested shores and undertaking a journey toward the unknown - toward new shores - will deepen our humanity and contextualize our prophetic agenda. Going to the ‘other side’ is to the places where stigmatised, marginalised, and demonised people live - as we will see in the encounter with the Gera­sene demoniac. We go to them. God’s work is rooted in our encounters with them. Last week I referred to the violence of organised forgetting where powerful and hegemonic groups render whole classes of people invisible. The others just live across a lake, yet there is a world of difference separating them from the disciples. This is the case where people living in the next town or suburb or in the apartment next door or the room across the hall live in socially constructed worlds apart. James Cone refers to these others as being under ‘the threat of nonbeing.’ Stigma makes people invisible. We need to make visible what is invisible - the dispossessed, disinherited, and disaffected. Love challenges the politics of exclusion. Love shrinks the distance between shores. The authentic embrace of difference challenges our values and our moral nerve centre.


Creative encounters save us from projected senses of superiority, tragic blind spots, and the logic of normativity. It is criminal to be too cautious when our vision for a better world requires the creative encounters of other shores—people, ideas, values, and practices unaligned with what we hold to be absolute. Emmanuel Levinas says we know God—the sacred—when we encounter the face of the other. He writes, ‘The face is the other who asks me not to let him die alone, as if to do so were to become an accomplice in his death.’ The face of the other demands that we do more and be more for the ones who are not us. Through the face of the other, God invites us into a binding community of love. Life-enhancing beauty emanates from the faces of others. The struggling moral health depends on our courage to see the other, to stare at the face of the other and find transcendence in difference.


May we open our hearts and homes to provide sanctuary amid the storms of violence and war to our sisters and brothers, even going to great risks to assure that our common humanity is not destroyed failing to see, to hear and respond by opening our hearts to those being persecuted by the politics of hatred and greed. We find ourselves in times of crisis, being required to do extraordinary acts amid our ordinary human lives. We each have this capacity within us, a seed of compassion just waiting to unfurl.


Henri Nouwen writes, ‘Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.’  Viktor Frankl wrote that to love you must encounter (Man’s Seach for Meaning). That always includes a journey toward the unknown and pursing an unfamiliar and untested future toward places and encounters that deepen our humanity and prompt us to prophetic action. Creative encounters save us from projected senses of superiority, tragic blind spots, and the logic of normativity. A renewed world requires creative encounters of other shores - people, ideas, values, and practices


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