Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 26 October 2014

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Exodus 22.21-27
Second Reading:
1 Thessalonians 1.5c-10
Matthew 22.34-40

Today's Gospel sums up the Exodus chapters on the Law, which include today's reading. In the First Reading, the author of Exodus presents just a few ways we show love for our neighbour. If I were to contemporize the first two, it would go something like this.

You shall not exploit, oppress or make life difficult for immigrants and refugees. Remember you or your ancestors were also once strangers to this land. You shall not refuse the necessities of life to anyone. Everyone should have security when it comes to their sustenance and health, especially single mothers, children, the disabled and the elderly.

Unfortunately the truth is, we, the ordinary folks of the world, are witnesses of oppression on a global scale. This mega-oppression operates as a pervasive erosion that touches all life and all aspects of life: the erosion of social safety net policies; the erosion of human and civil rights, especially for Indigenous peoples and marginalized groups; and, the erosion of the environment and environmental protection policies. Pope Francis was speaking of human trafficking and corruption but it also applies here when he said, none of this could happen “without the complicity, active or passive, of public authorities.”

When we consider all this, we may ask what about the part of today's text that says, “If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword” and so on. We know God doesn't go around smiting people. We also learn from biblical texts like Job that good people suffer and we know from our own experiences that oppressors don't seem to get punished. To get to some sort of meaning for us in the 21st century, I'm going to take a short detour using Ecclesiastes.

In Ecclesiastes (4.1), the author writes that he, “observed all the oppression that goes on under the sun: the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; and the power of their oppressorswith none to comfort them.” Now one biblical commentator translates the last part of this verse as, “and power rests in the hands of the oppressor, and there is no one to comfort the poor.1 However, elsewhere in the text the author of Ecclesiastes author suggests that power and riches don't necessarily bring happiness or even satisfaction. So I suggest what the scripture writer is saying is that although power rests with the oppressors, it brings them no comfort. More importantly, since by their oppression they have probably alienated everyone, “there is no one to comfort them”.

This brings us to the connections. If we love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, we act in concert with God. We too, hear the cries of which, the author of Exodus speaks. When Jesus says we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. It means were are meant to comfort the powerful along with the poor. You might say, why do the powerful need comfort. We have all heard the phrase “power corrupts.” Those with power who oppress lend truth to the phrase. Pope Francis said, “The corrupt one does not perceive his own corruption. It is a little like what happens with bad breath: someone who has it hardly ever realizes it; other people notice and have to tell him.” The Pope continues saying “Corruption is an evil greater than sin. More than forgiveness, this evil needs to be cured." So we can look at comfort for the powerful in terms of bringing them back to health. If they resist invitations to heal and persist in their death promoting ways, they ultimately learn that the single-minded pursuit of money and power is a lonely one. Therefore, it is not God who smites them. They themselves commit spiritual and emotional suicide.

But Jesus is telling us love of neighbour requires that we tell the powerful to restore health in all the areas mentioned above where they have caused erosion. In so doing we help them heal our world and themselves. Once again, I am not saying that we can change the world. But Jesus calls us to universal love and that requires we act as if our actions will change the world.

Let's not forget that we are to love ourselves. Right relationships with God, our neighbour and ourselves; community prayer and liturgy and communal play, all help us to live the Great Commandment of today's Gospel. An excerpt from the Message of the Hopi Elders of Oraibi, Arizona, encapsulates what I've been saying.

There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves! For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.2

I leave you with this question to ponder and if you would like to please share your response. How does celebration and communal play help you live the Gospel?

1Shapiro, Rami. Ecclesiastes Annotated and Explained. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Illuminations, 2010, p.39]
2The Elders. “A Message from the Hopi Elders”. Oraibi, Arizona: Hopi Nation

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