Reflection: March 24

Published on Mar 25th, 2019 by Webminister | 0

         There are some age-old universal questions that get asked in every generation.  Some are existential questions about our identity and beingness. Some are questions about our background and our kin—where do we belong?  And some are questions about tragedy.  Why did this have to happen to this group of people or this person?

         Throughout the Bible, we hear these questions asked, especially about so-called “God’s Will.” The book of Job, in particular, addressed suffering, tragedy and the cause of it.  Unfortunately, in many religious traditions, including our own, some use suffering as a means for judging others.  “If people would only live a blameless and fruitful life,” they say, “tragedy would not happen.”  Or to put a less fine point on it, “if you sin, you will be punished,” they say. That kind of judgement is used to control and manipulate, the book of Job claimed, or at best to inhibit people from asking the deep questions.  Job challenged this status quo thinking that followed the lines of righteousness equals blessing and sinfulness equals judgement.  Job maintained his innocence and challenged notions of blame and punishment.

In today’s world, Jesus would have had any number of examples of tragedy to use in talking to his friends: the killings in Christchurch, the tragedy on the 7-Mile Road south of Trail and Fruitvale, the African coastal flooding to name but a few of the tragedies of the past several days. Jesus was clear in denying a correlation between suffering and sin.  In fact, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, according to Luke, directly refutes the notion that suffering and sin are correlated; Jesus, blameless and without sin, died and suffered on the cross, a tragedy.  Jesus’ whole ministry and embodiment of God’s love refuted the notion that we get what we deserve—we neither get fame, fortune and success if we are righteous NOR tragedy, suffering and death if we are not.

         Luke was known as The Healer or The Physician; he gave a stronger note of compassion and mercy to his gospel than either Matthew or Mark.  Luke calls Jesus’ followers to repentance, no question, but he equally emphasizes forgiveness.  And just to make this point clearer to the early church, the story of the fig tree is uniquely told by Luke.  Matthew and Mark include the story, but have Jesus cursing the tree because it doesn’t bear fruit.  Luke, on the other hand, tells the story and has the gardener pleading for another year of care and nurture before cutting it down if it doesn’t bear fruit.  It is a plea for compassion and mercy rather than judgement and coldness.

         Father Gregory Boyle, a Roman Catholic priest in Las Angeles, exemplifies this life of compassion. He formed a group called “Homeboy Industries” to work to transform the lives of gang members.  It is a gang rehab and re-entry program.  Father Boyle talks about the source of inspiration for his work as coming from a savouring of life rather than a need to save a life. It’s an interesting distinction and one we would do well to think about.  Boyle claims that a ministry of saving the world leads to burnout and depletion.  Savouring the world, appreciating with gratitude the gift of life, leads to the opposite, a re-energization and a filling.  But more than that, savouring the world alleviates the need to judge and punish.  Boyle said this, “Our choice always is the same: save the world or savour it. And I vote for savouring it. And, just because everything is about something else, if you savour the world, somehow — go figure — it’s getting saved.”[1]

         In dealing with hardened gang members, Boyle claims there are no good guys and bad guys, i.e. there are no monsters echoing Desmond Tutu’s words.  There are monstrous acts for which we hold people accountable. And more than this, Boyle says, is that we need to emphasize that we belong together; before there can be peace, justice and equality, there has to be a recognition that we belong to each other, that we are kin.  We are part of the KinDom of God.  Savouring the world leads to treating people differently and seeing through eyes of hope and compassion rather than judgement and condemnation; savouring challenges the dominant culture’s desire to control and hold power over.  I loved these words that Boyle shared at the end of the article I read at Faith and Leadership, “You wait and you love and you cherish and you know that all mature spirituality is about tenderness. That’s the mark of mature spirituality because tenderness is the connective tissue. It’s the only thing that joins us together.”[2]

         And who’s embodying this tenderness at the moment in our world?  Jacinda Ardern has shown what leadership can look like from a perspective of kindship, compassion and love rather than fear, lashing out, and the need for judgement.  She has shown moral courage in the face of the awful circumstances in Christchurch. And it is a template, just as Father Boyle’s actions are, for how to deal with white supremacy or tribalism or tragedy.  We appeal to our basic human nature to see the connections that exist across humanity. We address the stereotypes and stand up for kinship and connection that can overcome alienation and estrangement.

         This emphasis on kinship is what Jesus is getting at with respect to repentance.  We are called to turn away from acts of separation and alienation and reconnect through love, compassion and a savouring of life.  Then the KinDom of God will be real in the world and not just for humans but for all life.

Words to ponder on our AGM Sunday. 

Amen.

 


[1]Gregory Boyle: Save the world or savour it?  See the article at https://www.faithandleadership.com/gregory-boyle-save-world-or-savor-it?utm_source=albanweekly&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=faithleadership.

[2]IBID.

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