- Published: Wednesday, 18 January 2017 22:06
LITURGY NOTES FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Claude Mostowik MSC
Third Sunday of the Year
January 22nd 2017
Suggested formula for recognition of indigenous people and their land.
We acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we stand.
We pay our respects to them and for their care of the land.
May we walk gently on this land.
We acknowledge the traditional custodians and occupiers of the land where we are now gathered, (the N. people) and recognise that it continues to be sacred to them.
We hail them: as guardians of the earth and of all things that grow and breed in the soil; as trustees of the waters – [the seas, the streams and rivers, the ponds and the lakes] - and the rich variety of life in those waters.
We thank them for passing this heritage to every people since the Dreamtime.
We acknowledge the wrongs done to them by newcomers to this land and we seek to be partners with them in righting these wrongs and in living together in peace and harmony.
For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest,
nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.
First Reading Isaiah 8:23—9:3
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14 The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Gospel Matthew 4:12-23 or 4:12-17
· Jesus, your light shines in the darkness of our world, Jesus, have mercy.
· Jesus, your light shine in us and drives away our fears, .Christ, have mercy.
· Jesus, your light shines on the Churches that profess your name. Jesus, have mercy.
Jesus your Son invites us, gently but insistently,
to listen and to follow him as faithful disciples.
Open our minds to his light,
open our hearts to his love,
so the Reign may grow in each of us
and in the world.
it is your love that directs our lives.
May that love,
which exceeds the furthest expression of our human longing,
direct each thought and effort
so that your presence is not obscured in our world
but the peace with justice you offer to all people be realised.
Prayers of the Faithful
Introduction: Let us pray to God that the light of Christ may bring hope, love and healing to all. Let us pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
That Christian communities may reveal to others the light of Christ who was came to heal, to reconcile, to include and proclaim the Reign of God in our world, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
That the leaders of the world may offer hope to people who suffer by giving justice to the oppressed, human dignity to every person, aid and comfort to those who cannot help themselves, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
That peace and unity may be realised in our homes, our communities, our nation, and that there may be no divisiveness in the Christian community, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
That countries which spend billions on weapons and train men and women for war will rather find ways of feeding the hungry, educating those poor and providing for people living with treatable illnesses, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
That people will seek peace through justice rather than peace that comes through victory over the enemy whether that be a neighbour, a colleague, or another nation, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
For the people of Gaza whose lives are constantly threatened by violence, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
For the people whose lives are threatened by lack of adequate shelter, nourishing food and access to medical and psychological care as well as people who live ill chronic pain, infirmity and life-threatening illnesses, we pray: R/ Let the light of Christ shine on us.
Concluding Prayer: Loving God, Creator of all life, you promise to be with us when we gather in your name and call upon you. Hear our prayers today for our world, a community, a family and a heart that welcomes life.
Prayer over the Gifts
open our blind eyes to the presence of Jesus
who beckons us to follow him.
May we be open to the hopes and joys,
the anxieties and fears
in the people around us
and lead them to the light of hope.
Prayer after Communion
you have enlightened us
with the word of your Son
and strengthened us with the body of Jesus
which has become bread for us.
May we see that we are called to be lights to the world,
bringing a hope where there is despair,
joy where there is sadness, and
love where there is indifference.
Liturgical material for Australia Day/Invasion Day ( from ‘A Prayerbook for Australia’)
Prayer of the Day.
we give thanks for this ancient and beautiful land,
a land of despair and hope,
a land of wealth and abundant harvests,
a land of fire, drought and flood.
We pray that your spirit may continue to move in this land and bring forgiveness, justice and reconciliation and an end to all injustice;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Thanksgiving for Australia.
God of Holy dreaming, God Creator Spirit,
from the dawn of creation you have given your children
the good things of Mother Earth.
You spoke and the gum tree grew.
In the vast desert and dense forest,
and in cities at the water’s edge,
creation sings your praise.
Your presence endures
as the rock at the heart of our Land.
When Jesus hung on the tree
you heard the cries of all your people
and became one with your wounded ones:
the convicts, the hunted and the dispossessed.
The sunrise of your Son coloured the earth anew,
and bathed it in glorious hope.
In Jesus we have been reconciled to you,
to each other and to your whole creation.
Lead us on Great Spirit.
as we gather from the four corners of the earth;
Enable us to walk together in trust
from the hurt and shame of the past
into the full day which has dawned in Jesus Christ. Amen
All glory and honour, thanks and praise
be yours now and always,
Lord of every time and place,
God beyond our dreaming.
We give thanks that from the beginning of time your brooded over this ancient land.
In the fullness of time you revealed your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ,
who by the power of the Spirit was born of Mary
and lived as one of us.
By his death on the cross
and rising to new life
he offered the one true sacrifice for sin
and obtained an eternal deliverance for his people.
We give you thanks that in him you have revealed to us your presence in the vastness of this land, your love in its fruitfulness and your purpose in tis cycles of death and renewed life.
Therefore with angels and archangels……
Prayer after communion:
Heavenly Father, you have created all humanity
in your image and likeness,
and have revealed your plan and purpose
in calling us your friends and family.
As we have shared this holy meal,
inspire our hearts to see
every man, woman and child
given the dignity and value
which is your purpose and you gift;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of this ancient land, through baptism you have given us an inheritance into one family, give us grace to walk together into the unity of Christ Jesus:
and the blessing of God……..
January 26 Survival Day/Australia
January 26 1788 Captain Arthur Philip raised the British flag at Sydney Cove
January 26 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established outside Parliament House in Canberra
January 27 UN International Day of Commemoration for the Victims of the Holocaust
Try as I may I can not escape the sound of suffering. Perhaps as an old man I will accept suffering with insouciance. But not now; men in their prime, if they have convictions are tasked to act on them.
Julian Assange, 2007
A successful autocracy rests on the universal failure of individual courage.
The human race has had long experience and a fine tradition in surviving adversity. But we now face a task for which we have little experience, the task of surviving prosperity.
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.
Atticus Finch (Harper Lee)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
I don't preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned with the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn't say, 'Now is that political or social?' He said, 'I feed you.' Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.
When we tolerate what we know to be wrong--when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened--when we fail to speak up and speak out--we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.
Robert Francis Kennedy
Let them call me a rebel and I welcome it; I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of demons should I make a whore of my soul.
By far the most dangerous foe we have to fight is apathy - indifference from whatever cause, not from a lack of knowledge, but from carelessness, from absorption in other pursuits, from a contempt bred of self satisfaction.
It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God's will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you - try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God's will yourself!
Hear me people: We now have to deal with another race---small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possessions is a disease with them. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.
Chief Sitting Bull
Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it.
Truth never damages a cause that is just.
If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.
One must always be aware, to notice -- even though the cost of noticing is to become responsible.’
To be innocent in America is to permit the continued theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the state by Wall Street swindlers and speculators. To be innocent in America is to stand by as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in the name of profit, condemn ill people, including children, to die. To be innocent in America is refusing to resist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not only illegal under international law but responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the odd age we live in. Innocence is complicity.
Don't struggle and strive so, my child./ There is no race to complete, no point to prove, no obstacle to conquer for you to win my love./ I have already given it to you./ I loved you before creation drew its first breath./ I dreamed you as I molded Adam from the mud./ I saw you wet from the womb./ And I loved you then.
Mpho Tutu and Desmond Tutu, from Made for Goodness
I don't gather that God wants us to pretend our fear doesn't exist, to deny it, or eviscerate it. Fear is a reminder that we are creatures -- fragile, vulnerable, totally dependent on God. But fear shouldn't dominate or control or define us. Rather, it should submit faith and love. Otherwise, fear can make us unbelieving, slavish, and unhuman.
If you are what you should be, then you will set the world on fire.’
St. Catherine of Siena
There is no such thing as the right place, the right job, the right calling or ministry. I can be happy or unhappy in all situations. I am sure of it, because I have been … deciding to do this, that, or the other for the next five, ten, or twenty years is no great decision. Turning fully, unconditionally, and without fear to God is. Yet this awareness sets me free.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
… If those professing religion shared the life of the poor and worked to better their lot, and risked their lives as revolutionists do, and trade union organizers have done in the past, then there is a ring of truth about the promises of the glory to come. The cross is followed by the resurrection.
‘Christ does not save all those who say to him: Lord, Lord. But he saves all those who out of a pure heart give a piece of bread to a starving [person], without thinking about him in the least little bit.
We must move away from asking God to take care of the things that are breaking our hearts to praying about the things that are breaking God's heart.
I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness. I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too. I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right.
‘Each one according to [their] means should take care to be at one with everyone else, for the more one is united to [their] neighbor, the more [they are] united with God.’
Dorotheus of Gaza
The prayer below was recited at a ‘Mass for Peace’ in Cincinnati's St. Peter in Chains Cathedral:
‘Prayer for the Decade of Nonviolence’
I bow to the sacred in all creation.
May my spirit fill the world with beauty and wonder.
May my mind seek truth with humility and openness.
May my heart forgive without limit.
May my love for friend, enemy, and outcast be without measure.
May my needs be few and my living be simple.
May my actions bear witness to the suffering of others.
May my hands never harm a living being.
May my steps stay on the journey of justice.
May my tongue speak for those who are poor without fear of the powerful.
May my prayers rise with patient discontent until no child is hungry.
May my life's work be a passion for peace and nonviolence.
May my soul rejoice in the present moment.
May my imagination overcome death and despair with new possibility.
and may I risk reputation, comfort and security to bring this hope to the children.
Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, January 2, 2008
The Bridge Builder
Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years in farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence. A reconciliation was utterly unthinkable.
One morning there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. ‘I'm looking for a few days work,’ he said. ‘Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?’
‘Yes,’ said the older brother. ‘I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my neighbor, in fact, it's my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now it is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I'll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence - an 8-foot fence so I won't need to see his place anymore. Cool him down anyhow.’
The carpenter said, ‘I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post hole digger and I'll be able to do a job that pleases you.’
The older brother had to go to town for supplies so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day, The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.
About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other. A fine piece of work - handrails and all - and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.
‘You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I've said and done.’ The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge and then they met in the middle, took each other's hand, finally reconciled. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder, ‘No wait, stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you,’ said the older brother.
‘I'd love to stay on,’ the carpenter said, ‘but, I have many bridges to build.’
On the death of the Beloved [John O’Donohue]
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
A Mid-Winter Prayer (for those in the Northern Hemisphere that receive these resources)
From the rising of the midwinter sun to its setting
Scatter the darkness with the light of your love, O Shining One.
Make me short on mean thoughts, long on offering words of comfort
Make me short on being driven, long on paying attention
Make me short on focusing only on my own, long on looking beyond
Make me short on obsessive lists, long on spontaneous acts of kindness
Make me short on mindless activity, long on time to reflect
Make me short on tradition as a habit, long on re-discovery and re-owning
Make me short on rushing and tiring, long on walking and wondering
Make me short on false festive jollity, long on stilling and rooted joy
Make me short on guilt, long on being merciful to myself
Make me short on being overwhelmed, long on peaceableness as I set forth this day
from The Celtic Wheel of the Year by Tess Ward
The secret of seeing is, then, the pearl of great price. If I thought he could teach me to find it and keep it forever I would stagger barefoot across a hundred deserts after any lunatic at all. But although the pearl may be found, it may not be sought. The literature of illumination reveals this above all: although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise. I return from one walk knowing where the killdeer nests in the field by the creek and the hour the laurel blooms. I return from the same walk a day later scarcely knowing my own name. Litanies hum in my ears; my tongue flaps in my mouth Ailinon, alleluia! I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The ultimate weakness of violence
is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate....
Returning violence for violence multiples violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Martin Luther King Jr
We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.
Martin Luther King Jr
‘We either live together, or we die together’
Mohamed El-Sawy, Egyptian Muslim arts tycoon credited with first floating the ‘human shield’ idea where Muslim people attended Coptic Christian services after violent attacks on them by radical groups.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr
The hope of a secure and liveable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.
Martin Luther King Jr
Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time; the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Martin Luther King Jr
A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a moulder of consensus.
Martin Luther King Jr
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.
Martin Luther King Jr
At the centre of non-violence stands the principle of love.
Martin Luther King Jr
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Martin Luther King Jr
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Martin Luther King Jr
I am convinced that love is the most durable power in the world. It is not an expression of impractical idealism, but of practical realism. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, love is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. To return hate for hate does nothing but intensify the existence of evil in the universe. Someone must have sense enough and religion enough to cut off the chain of hate and evil, and this can only be done through love.
Martin Luther King, Jr., 1957
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King Jr
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Martin Luther King Jr
Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being.
Mahatma Gandhi, 1948
There is a way to know if God is near us or far away: every one who is concerned about the hungry, about the naked, about the poor, about the disappeared, about the tortured, about the prisoner, about all flesh that is suffering , will find God near. ‘Call out to the Lord and he will hear you.’ Religion is not praying a great deal. Religion involves this guarantee of having my God near because I do good to my brothers and sisters. The proof of my prayer is not to say a great many words, the proof of my plea is easy to see: How do I act toward the poor? Because God is there.
St Oscar Romero, February 5, 1978
Peace cannot be a mere word or a vain aspiration. Peace is a commitment and a manner of life which demands that the legitimate aspirations of all should be satisfied, such as access to food, water and energy, to medicine and technology, or indeed the monitoring of climate change. Only in this way can we build the future of humanity; only in this way can we facilitate an integral development valid for today and tomorrow.
Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 7 January 2008, n7
Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.
From War Is a Lie, by David Swanson.
1. Wars Are Not Fought Against Evil
2. Wars Are Not Launched in Defense
3. Wars Are Not Waged Out of Generosity
4. Wars Are Not Unavoidable
5. Warriors Are Not Heroes
6. War Makers Do Not Have Noble Motives
7. Wars Are Not Prolonged for the Good of Soldiers
8. Wars Are Not Fought on Battlefields
9. Wars Are Not Won, and Are Not Ended By Enlarging Them
10. War News Does Not Come From Disinterested Observers
11. War Does Not Bring Security and Is Not Sustainable
12. Wars Are Not Legal
13. Wars Cannot Be Both Planned and Avoided
14. War Is Over If You Want It
We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
We meet you in the darkness,
we see you in the light.
Shine upon us.
Turn us around from
selfish interest and privilege.
Forgive us and give us courage
to shine with your compassion, justice, and peace.
Out in Scripture
Reflection on the readings
In seminary, we had many books in the library, and on our shelves, of conversion stories – some more inspiring than others; some more joyful than others yet all stories of ordinary people called to extraordinary lives. From conventional beginnings, their contribution to others often extended beyond their lives. Today, God’s word comes to us via an exiled prophet (Isaiah) - a beheaded herald (John the Baptist) - a crucified Messiah (Jesus) - an executed apostle (the Apostle Paul). And God’s word continues to come to us via an assassinated archbishop (Oscar Romero) – an assassinated advocate for peace and racial equity Martin Luther King Jnr) – a poor nun living among the poor in Kolkata (Mother Teresa), to name a few. They did not have a say in the legacy they would leave behind. They were called. They responded. They lived and died doing God’s will. Nothing less can be expected of us either as followers of Jesus. Anything less and we are in the wrong place.
Today’s readings contrast rich and poor people, powerful and bullied people, darkness and light, division and unity, withdrawal and leadership. Isaiah tells how rich nations are humbled and that there is One to come out of the poor, lowly land of Galilee. When Matthew made this prophecy the people heard it like a song of freedom and a reminder of God’s open heart for all. People victimised by armed bullies will see the torturers’ instruments shattered. Cowering servitude will be a thing of the past. Such visions articulate the hopes of any exploited people and can be analogously applied to any situation of injustice and oppression.
Paul confronted divisions in the early Christian community as people, newly baptized and searching for identity, aligned and followed those who baptised them rather than the only one to follow – Jesus - the crucified and risen Christ. In Matthew, Jesus withdraws to Capernaum after hearing of John the Baptist’s imprisonment. From here he calls those who were to be his followers. John the Baptist has moved from desert to dungeon. The voice that cried out in the desert is now in prison – a ‘serial troublemaker’ is now out of the public eye. Authorities do what authorities do best – they try to silence people who threaten them as recently when Father John Dear was removed or forced to leave his religious community after decades of being a voice for peace. It happened to Oscar Romero, to Martin Luther King and to John Lennon and countless others. Jesus takes up where John left off but preaches a message of reconciliation and healing. Matthew summarises Jesus' ministry in terms of a light shining on a people in darkness. What began as a call for repentance became a mission to heal, to reconcile, to broaden peoples’ horizons to God’s presence in all people and all places. But it is not something he can do alone.
It was a dark time for Jesus, and we can imagine him, as did the writer of the psalm, calling out to God in trust for strength in their darkness and fear - as people continue to do today. This God meets and walks with us in the darkness, in the division and in the solitude, and calls us to light, unity and action. If we reflect on where we dwell, we might also see that sometimes that darkness may be the darkness of ignorance, self-righteousness, grandiosity and superiority. The division might be due to an ‘us vs. them,’ or ‘mine vs. yours’ mentality that excludes people who are different in any way – the stranger, the refugee, the person of another faith, the person of different sexual orientation?
Following in the footsteps of Isaiah and Paul, luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and today, Pope Francis, have shown us that we can live lives of peace and unity. We need to find ways or strategies to do this in our country, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our homes, in our places of worship, and most importantly, within ourselves. Pope Francis in his World Day of Peace Message (January 1, 2017) called Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace is an excellent reflection and challenge to live in peace with one another and all of creation. It calls for action. It is political as is all work for justice and peace. Jesus’ baptism was his entry into and sharing the world of ordinary people. He proclaims there has been a power shift – and calls others to share in his ministry and service. It is unashamedly political because it is in the ‘people business’. God’s reign requires attention to doing justice and doing it nonviolently. It is unashamedly political. Marcus Borg in Heart of Christianity (p. 127), writes, ‘The claim that the Bible is political and that the God of the Bible is passionate about justice is surprising, even startling, to many Christians. We have often overlooked it; and when it is pointed out, we often resist seeing it’.
And we see in the gospels, people are placed before us called to be agents of God’s justice, healing, reconciliation and love. God always begins from the margins and we have seen that Jesus comes out marginal territory, a geographical backwater, calling marginal people to be disciples. Geography is important. It reflects God’s concerns. Galilee is close to pagan territory and had a mixture of religion. It is a marginal place. And, Jesus called marginal people in marginal places. John’s imprisonment will not stop him as he intensifies his activity of teaching, proclaiming and healing throughout Galilee.
Their radical decision to follow needed to be renewed again and again as they faced the implications of proclaiming the reign of heaven. They had to believe that God’s reigning was manifest in their relationship with Jesus and the life he shared with them and that its power overruled everything that could rise up against them.
Each of us is called to make the same decision. We have to choose either to regard Christianity as a nice idea, a comfort in difficult times or to make the following of Christ the only thing that makes sense of our life. Christ’s call comes to each of us individually and promises to transform us into everything we could possibly be. Yet, while each must decide for her or himself, we are called together because only together can we make Christ present in our world. What happened on that seashore continues to happen in our own lives. When Christ’s call strikes a chord with us, it’s an invitation to play our part in God’s new world symphony. For the disciples, meeting Jesus that day would not be just another day at work when they were called to abandon fishing with the promise that they would now catch, look for people. They would be casting their faith, words and actions out into the sea of humanity in order to touch hearts and souls.
The scriptures tell us that God hears the cry of people oppressed, in chains, poor and those who struggled in sweat and blood to lay the foundations of an oppressive empire. Jesus heard such cries and we as individuals and communities are called to listen to those cries and respond. When Peter and his companions dropped their nets to follow Jesus they were signing on to a movement that offered an alternative community—economic, political, and spiritual—to the dominating imperial system they had lived under. Their call was to be identified first and foremost with service to humanity, to the community, and we are called also to extend that as service for the Earth rather than enslaving human life and destroying the Earth. ‘Fishing for humanity’ must include seeing Jesus’ message as bound up with his and our compassion for the poor; his and our concern for the whole person, his and our opposition to ‘sins’ of exclusion; and systemic injustice – societal sins – [or ‘the normalcy of human civilisation’s violent injustice at a very specific time and a very specific place’ [John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire, p. 111]. As we saw, God is champion of the oppressed who offers freedom from their enemies. Isaiah wrote when Assyria was the imperial power. And Jesus calls us over and over again to choose ‘the radicality of God’s nonviolent justice’ over ‘the normalcy of human civilisation’s violent injustice at a very specific time and a very specific place’ [Crossan, God and Empire, p. 111].
Those who follow Jesus are always in the ‘people’ business - not the fish business - or the farming business - or the mineral business - or in any other business people engage in. I remember a poster in the waiting of room of the Department of Immigration saying that the organisation was in the people business but we saw how many people were not being served and very much exploited. One might say that whatever business we are on about.. media, health, education, law enforcement… they are to serve people and the good of the earth. Not to do this is to divide Christ as Paul says. It is to disfigure the image of Christ, God in disguise, on the face of our sisters and brothers.
Despite factions in the Christian community, Paul does not demand conformity but inclusiveness. He sought a basis for unity that took the real differences in people into account, whether of class, background or personality. The task of Christian community is to weave a global tapestry where no one is excluded. In the face of mutual suspicion, exclusion, recrimination, accusations, and outing, Paul urged unity and agreement. Christians (and non-Christians) have excluded, persecuted and killed those they deemed to be different—Jews, Muslims, gays, witches, heretics and so on. Most dispiriting is that the bitterest enemies were Christians against Christians, persecuting each other over the slightest differences whether of doctrine, practice, sexuality.
Not all Christians distrust, demonise, fear, caricature and separate themselves from each other. We can also find voices of inclusion, embrace, tolerance, welcome and even celebration. The reading from Paul and the gospel stand side by side. Unity for Paul was a counterpoint to the world’s way of doing things; where new life, inclusion, justice are lived out. A diverse community united in love around Jesus has power for healing, for justice, for peacemaking. A diverse community united in love around Jesus exists for others, not for itself. A diverse community united in love around Jesus is not based on worldly power. A diverse community united in love around Jesus exists to heal that which is broken, includes the lost. A diverse community united in love around Jesus can proclaim to those around it ‘We're here for you’.
As we work within the systems of this world to bring about justice it is easy to get caught up in factionalism and calls for loyalty of the systems we are meant to challenge. The causes make a great claim on us than Jesus and the values of God’s reign. Even our loyalty to the church or religious affiliations can interfere with these values of God’s reign and living truly in the ‘people business’. As Pope Francis seems to be saying we are facing threats -violence and war, poverty and greed, consumption and environmental degradation, exclusion and discrimination - to the world’s wholeness. To face them we can do this in the security and strength of the Psalmist today by living a strong and vibrant relationship with God. When this relationship becomes our primary loyalty we will find ourselves seeking nonviolence in the face of violence, welcoming people with whom we disagree, challenging the injustices within our own organisations and beyond, standing with, sitting with people in solidarity.
May we personally and collectively, nurture our own relationship with God. Without it, we can easily grow despondent, cynical and even destructive. The power to live from the reality of God’s reign, to work to change the world and bring justice, flows from knowing God’s light and presence. Ultimately our first calling is simply to follow Christ and invite others to do the same. Changing the world, then, is not our task – it is God’s. We simply get to participate sometimes.