Reflection: February 25

Published on Feb 28th, 2018 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         I was listening to a bit of As It Happens on CBC radio last week, and I heard a speech given by one of the survivors of the school attack in Florida; Lorenzo Prada talked about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead and many injured. Prada spoke about the accused, Nikolas Cruz, when Prada was protesting with other students at the Florida Legislature. He and said:

         “We can’t just blame Nikolas Cruz for this tragedy because the laws of our country allowed him to purchase a weapon. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle before he was able to drink beer. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle, although he had clear signs of mental illness. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle with clear signs of delinquency from the school. Nikolas Cruz was able to purchase an assault rifle with the intention to kill. I am here to demand change from our government, because the lives lost, who shall not be lost in vain, shall then be used as a catalyst for change in our country today.   We will make change in this country, and if not today, tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that, until we achieve the change that we want in this country.”[1]

         An impassioned speech that called for a hard decision. And unfortunately, we are already hearing that lawmakers won’t take a hard decision to make it more difficult for people to purchase guns.

         What I think Prada and other young people understood unconsciously, if not consciously—as well as the parents who spoke of their grief and challenged the lawmakers to do something—is that there is a systemic evil at work in the world. And I use the word evil here intentionally. Systems and institutions can sometimes take on a life of their own and that life tends to try to keep the institution alive even when that institution is no longer serving humanity, and that, for me, is evil.

         Walter Wink, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, John Dominic Crossan, Paul Tillich, Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel and many other religious scholars have written about how economic and political institutions can take on a power that no longer enhances and serves the common good. Walter Wink, in particular, using Paul’s phrase, wrote extensively about “the powers and principalities.” Wink was a non-violent advocate of radical, social change. An American, he exposed the political and economic structures that didn’t serve the most vulnerable people in society. Ruether also wrote about structures that rob us of our humanity.

           Maybe this is what Jesus was getting at when he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me you adversary.” Peter was repeating the popular understanding that “we can’t rock the boat.” “We might get the Romans mad at us.” “We might start something we can’t complete.” Peter didn’t want to challenge the status quo; the institutions were too powerful and he would risk too much to challenge them. Isn’t that the age-old conundrum?

         This is what Jesus spoke about in the Gospels… Challenging the status quo… Pushing people to think beyond the expected answers. Especially in Mark’s Gospel, where the teachings are brief and often very challenging. The clue that Jesus, according to Mark, had something important to say was this: “And he began to teach them.” This is our clue to learn that something hard was going to be taught and it was likely that the disciples or the listeners weren’t going to get it. And that raises the question, “do we?”

         That question is a relevant one because, as a preacher once asked, according to Fred Craddock, “You cannot succeed preaching the cross. People do not want to hear that; they already have enough problems.”[2] And isn’t that true?! We all have lots on our plates, so what do we do with issues that involve us, but seem beyond us? Institutional evil? Yikes!

         But Jesus talked about finding our lives in seeing beyond our own limitations. That’s not an insignificant detail in this story. We lose ourselves when we define our lives too narrowly. We find our lives in expansive thinking.

         So, as Lent literally means to lengthen, as in the lengthening days, it is our invitation to broaden our lives. We lengthen our sense of hope, perhaps. We take on tasks that allow us to lengthen our sense of love and compassion. We seek out others with whom we can talk about our struggles and challenges, which may be very personal. We have a coffee or a cup of tea with someone when we are feeling down and uncertain about what next steps we should take. We admit that we need help. We make space in our days for prayer and silence to let hope and God’s love percolate up. We seek knowledge about things like proportional representation or climate disruption rather than throwing our hands up in despair thinking these things are beyond us. We hold the love of the earth and God’s creation close to our hearts. These are things that lengthen our days and our lives. These are things that expand our sense of self and humanity.

         The Gospel asks something from us—the Good News. And in that which we give, we find life. That’s the paradox. We might not have the energy to engage the hard teachings, but when we do and let go of whatever outcome we might desire, we find new life. We find new hope. We rediscover love. We find a new voice with which to celebrate joy. That’s our Lenten task this year! Amen.


[1] As It Happens, CBC radio program podcast: Wednesday, February 21st, 2018.

[2] Preaching the New Common Lectionary: Year B, Lent, Holy Week and Easter, page. 42.

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