Readings for “Holy Family Sunday”: SIR 3: 2-6, 12-14; PS 123: 1-5; COL 3: 12-21; MT 2: 13-15, 19-23. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122913.cfm
Last week, a very good friend of mine wrote an appreciative note on this blog site. He said, “I’ve been stimulated by reading your blogs. They all call us to action, but how to act?”
On the last Sunday of the year – the feast of the Holy Family – the question invites reflections on New Year’s resolutions. The feast itself and today’s liturgy of the word help us by reminding us of Jesus’ “family values.” They were those of immigrants and political refugees. In that light, please allow me to suggest a few resolutions – and to invite readers to follow suit.
Let me begin by telling you about my friend. He’s a meditator and has always shown serious concern about social justice. He’s among the first to take the part of the disadvantaged and has given the rest of us good example in terms of sharing his resources with the poor. So I felt like writing back, “Just continue doing what you’re doing.”
Continue leading quietly by good example. Keep up your work for “Habitat for Humanity,” Stay the course helping that local undocumented family pay for their home. Knock on doors at election time – as you and I have done together in the past. Keep bothering Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul (our senators in Kentucky) with those phone calls I know you already make. Should they decide to throw their hats into the ring, support the candidacies of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or Jill Stein.
And above all, stick to your discipline of meditation with that group of like-minded people meeting each morning at 8:00 in Union Church. In fact, meditating together for peace and social justice might well be the most powerful thing you do in terms of following the path of the Enlightened Jesus which is the intended focus of my blogs and these Sunday homilies.
All of that might not seem like a lot to those (like my friend) specifically attempting to follow Jesus. I mean all of us would like to do more – something more spectacular that would yield immediate measurable results that we and everyone else would recognize as efficacious. We’d like to save the planet, eliminate poverty, and, bring about world peace.
But we can’t. That’s because in the end, we’re nobodies, and seem discouragingly powerless in the face of the evils of capitalism and militarism recently identified by Pope Francis as the principal causes of our world’s problems. Nonetheless, though their accompanying ideologies of greed and violence run entirely counter to gospel values, they’ve somehow been adopted by “Christians” as the way of Jesus. And that in itself, I know, is discouraging.
Jesus, I believe would find it so as well. He rebelled against the organized religion of his day. But strangely (like us) he seemed unable to do much about it. For instance, today’s gospel selection from Matthew portrays Jesus and his family as quintessentially powerless – as political refugees and immigrants. How much power do people like that have to change the world?
Jesus’ powerlessness and “nobodiness” is also evident from considering the long silent years he spent with his “Holy Family,” during what tradition calls his “hidden life.” As an adult, the former political refugee seemed impotent before the evils that continue to afflict our world.
Think about it. According to received interpretations, Jesus was the full embodiment of God. Presumably, then, he had infinite power at his disposal. His world was as filled with problems as ours. There was Roman imperialism and the occupation of Palestine with its brutality, torture, rape, exploitation and oppression. There was political corruption among Jesus’ own people as the leaders of his time climbed into bed with the Romans. There was extreme poverty alongside obscene wealth. There was religious corruption. There was disease and ignorance.
And yet as far as the record is concerned, this embodiment of God did nothing – until he was 30 years old, and then only for a year or possibly 3. For 97% of his life, Jesus did absolutely nothing that we know of!
Why? Do you think it might have been because, like us, he could do nothing significant about all those problems? And even towards the end, as a young 30-something, when he did finally emerge as a more or less public figure, what did he really do?
Yes, he was an activist. He sought justice for the poor and oppressed. He spoke some inspiring words, healed a few people, and worked some miracles that his contemporaries dismissed as parlor tricks. He provoked the authorities in a temple demonstration for religious purity and social justice, was arrested, tortured and executed as an insurrectionist.
But that was pretty much it as far as his “public life” was concerned. Afterwards, the world more or less continued as it had before his arrival.
I somehow find comfort in Jesus’ “nobodiness.” It offers solace to our own little lives and their apparent lack of meaning. In the end, we’re nobodies – all of us. That’s what death makes apparent as we lose our physical form and minds and all that we worked for. We’re nobodies. Few will remember us or think of us after we’re gone. We’re born, get married, have children, buy and sell a few items, and then die. What then became of all our hopes and dreams? What does it all mean?
Perhaps Jesus’ hidden life with Mary and Joseph assures us that it’s all O.K.; it’s all good. Maybe “that’s life” – what it’s about? We’re all called to be open, faceless channels that disclose the presence of God in our very ordinary lives with their personal limitations as far as the big picture is concerned. We’re called to rise above such limitations or rather to use them to express the unbounded love of an apparently powerless God to those around us – especially to our family members who might not even understand.
We’re called to do our best and leave the rest in God’s hands. To be more specific, accepting that reality of our human condition and doing our best in 2014 might include:
• In general, identifying (as Jesus’ family did) with the interests of political refugees and immigrants.
• Stopping our habit of looking to people at the top to solve our world’s problems.
• Considering vegetarianism as a measure against cruelty to animals on factory farms.
• Growing a garden and canning food.
• And/or signing up for local subscription agriculture deliveries.
• Going solar in every way possible.
• Staying out of the “big boxes” as much as we can.
• Being ready and willing to pay higher taxes and live closer to the ground after the world economy collapses when the effects of climate chaos catch up with us.
• Lobbying for an increase in the minimum wage and to increase Social Security benefits.
• Ceasing to support and honor the U.S. military. (Given U.S. wars of aggression and world projection of imperial force, work in the military does not constitute “right livelihood.”)
• Agitating in our local faith communities for the adoption of a liberation theology perspective like that recently articulated by Pope Francis in his exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium.”
So what do you think?
What do you consider the most powerful action we might take to advance Jesus’ (and so many others’) program of justice, healing, and peace?
Please share your suggestions below.