Thomas Merton said, "If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for." This intimate question can be terrifying. It forces each of us to articulate our deepest values. Today we are invited by the gospel to join with Merton and ask ourselves what and for whom we live? What do we long for?
Today John acclaims Jesus: ‘Here is the Lamb of God!’ Jesus is acclaimed by John as the one to watch, to get to know, to hear and see. There is a hint of failure in the gospel expressed by John, but no follower of God can escape it- not Jesus, not John, not Paul, not Martin Luther King, not Oscar Romero, and not Franz Jägerstätter. Neither shall we. Despite our perceived failures, God points us further down the road, to those doors that have opened far beyond the closed doors we already passed.
Pope Francis desires a church that is only concerned with communicating the Good News of Jesus to this world. He says, that we must not let our fear of failure lead us from going through ever new doors, says: ‘More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while outside people are starving and Jesus tirelessly repeats to us, “Give them something to eat.”’
Rev Jim Wallis, from Sojourners, speaking in 2007, said that we all have a chance to alter two basic definitions of reality in our world: what is acceptable and what is possible. The inhumanities we can inflict on others, the injustices that seek redress; the failure to recognise those injustices all call for a change in the way we see what is at stake. The contradictions we have lived with and accepted or even denied get our attention and we decide they are no longer acceptable. The tolerable becomes intolerable. Unless we open our eyes and make decisions that matter, injustice and its consequence continue. Is it okay that 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day; that the life expectancy of the First Peoples is 17 years less than the general population; that 30,000 children die each day from preventable poverty and disease; that we build armaments and explore better ways of killing yet cut spending on peoples’ wellbeing, health and education? For many people the walls of division and inequity are intolerable.
As well as revising what is unacceptable, we need to see what is possible. It means following the tugs of conscience, making our voices and words sharper and clearer, listening to the language of the heart and humanity rather than the language of so-called ‘respectable’ economic or political forces. Unfortunately, many people believe that change is not possible which results in cynicism, loss of hope and self-protection. This month a film The Hidden Life is to be released. It is about a young Austrian farmer beheaded in Germany in August 1943 for the crime of ‘demoralisation of the armed forces’ after refusing to fight for Hitler. Franz Jägerstätter lived out his conscientious objection as he could nor reconcile his beliefs with Nazism. As with Jesus, John the Baptist, Charles de Foucauld, and many others, who lived a ‘hidden life’, one might ask what difference would this farmer’s stand and death make? Who would even know or notice or care excerpt for his wife and children? His story speaks both to the turbulent times in which we live. As many people of faith and no faith seem to endorse violence as a way of dealing with violence, Jägerstätter’s life inspires peace activists around the world. There is another way!! He drew a line in the sand and said that it is not okay when the majority say ‘yes’ situations and positons without questioning whether being on a single track is the way to go. Jägerstätter knew what mattered in life. It was not self-preservation but truthfulness and love that brings about well-being.
The darkness that Isaiah felt was not unlike the powerlessness many people when they confront the many ecological, political, economic crises. They found hope by taking action. Though our efforts may seem fruitless, or falling short of God’s call, God is still working in our lives and the lives of others; God’s presence still calls us to responsibility and ownership of our actions.
Answering Jesus’ call to follow is a daily decision. It might entail decisions about our consumption, what and how we buy, what we drive, where we live, what we eat, how we use energy, how we work, how we treat others and how we care for ourselves. These decisions can result in sacrifices we would rather avoid. Pope Francis reminds us that discipleship is about recognising that faith is about our interconnectedness with all creation and with each other. It is not an individual journey, but connects us to community. We are brought face to face with others, and our choices and lifestyles impact on others.
As Jesus lived out his call, he manifested God’s borderless love, mercy and compassion. Isaiah attests that God desires ‘life’ and peace for all peoples and nations. As we begin a new year, we might live in such a way that others will see God’s love made flesh in and through our lives - ordinary women and men who are simply being truly human and that our humanity is bound up with others. ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God!’
Since his election, Pope Francis has often been in the news. He has transformed the tone of the papacy, confessed he is a sinner, declared ‘who am I to judge’ when asked about gay people, knelt at the feet of prison inmates to wash their feet including women and Muslims, and embraced severely disfigured people. In his reforms, he has disempowered conservatives and replaced reactionaries in the Vatican. He has made his own the words ‘The Lord has put a new song in my mouth’ from today’s psalm which has deemphasised formal religion – ‘sacrifice and offerings’ – to what God desires ‘a people that hear and obey.’ This is the justice that God has placed in our hearts - believers or not. At Christmas time, members of the curia were warned against a “rigidity” in living out the Christian faith which creates a “minefield” of hatred and misunderstanding in a world where Christianity is increasingly irrelevant.
As we reflect on today’s gospel, we might say that we have witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit upon a man passionately determined to follow Jesus and reflect his light, love, peace and mercy to all people by making a ‘preferential option for the poor’ with justice and mercy the main themes of his ministry. As we face threats to peace, he completely rejects war as a solution to conflict; he severely criticises weapons manufacturers and their possession, and challenges the corporates who advocate free market solutions to the detriment of the poor. We need only refer to his Evangelii Gaudium where peace, justice and the Spirit of God reflects today’s readings.
As Jesus lived out his call as the “Lamb of God” and “Son of God,” he witnessed that God’s love, mercy and compassion knew no boundaries. It went beyond the boundaries that John the Baptist preached. Isaiah attests to God’s desire of salvation and liberation for all peoples and nations expressed as tender love and compassionate care to anyone who is an outcast.
The Scriptures this Sunday hint that our calls from God are dynamic, and that they often come through the words of others, inviting, encouraging and challenging us to claim our gifts with confidence.
For Compiled by Claude Mostowik msc,
Director of Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace Centre, Enmore, NSW
President, Pax Christi Australia
Convenor, Pax Christi Australia (NSW)