What Then Can We Do? New Year’s Resolutions in the light of Jesus’ ‘Nobodiness’ (Sunday Homily)

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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.

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

7 thoughts on “What Then Can We Do? New Year’s Resolutions in the light of Jesus’ ‘Nobodiness’ (Sunday Homily)”

  1. I think Jesus was pretty clever to lead you to write this post two thousand years after his death. ‘Powerless’ doesn’t seem quite the right word.

    Your last question is interesting. If a person wants to heal people of sickness he begins by training to be a doctor. He does not worry about what he should be doing besides this. since an unqualified doctor is a lot worse than useless, and as likely to do harm by his treatments as good. So my answer would be that first we should heal ourselves, and only then worry about interfering with the world. Then we’ll know what to do, and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do. In the meantime we can only try to do no damage. Or so it seems to me anyway.

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  2. What do we do in meditation? Tony de Mello says we listen. In prayer we speak, in meditation we listen. In a videotape recording of a TV appearance he likens it to Citizen’s Band radio, and suggests we take our thumb off the “push to speak” button. To what or whom do we listen? It has no name, of course. Merton calls it “the inner spirit infused with God.” What results from that is known: when we listen to the inner spirit, regardless of name or method, we are led in the direction of your friend.

    if we want to create change in the world, it has to come from within, from a place that is oblivious to the conflicting messages of our culture. That’s why Francis is changing the process of seeking truth in the Catholic church, so that those messages as they trickle up from individuals, find a voice. He echoes Merton over and over again: he knows where listening to the inner spirit leads.

    So the question of “what do we do to help make justice, healing and peace happen?” has less to do with what we do on the terminate issues, and more to do with spreading the process through which we are led to these issues. The question becomes: “how do we lead people to engage the inner spirit as a core practice in their lives, regardless of the manner in which they engage it?” The rest comes from there.

    thanks for providing the spark, once again, and Happy New Year,

    Hank

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    1. Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Hank. And a happy New Year to you as well. I agree with you. Our minds are both powerful transmitters and receivers. The messages we send out in meditation and prayer have power to influence and change the world.

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  3. Nice one Hank. My comment did not appear for some reason, but it was very much the same as yours. ‘Physician, heal thyself’ seems to roughly sum up the idea that we cannot, should not, try to change the world until we are oblivious to ‘the conflicting messages of our culture’, and also our own preference and temperamental views. Doctors do not start treating patients until they are qualified. So my answer to the Mike’s final question would be to stop worrying about the world and worry more about our own relationship to and understanding of Jesus.

    The idea that the world continued much as before after Jesus’ departure is very odd when two thousand years later we are having conversations like this one.

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    1. Good point, guymax. Yes, we are still talking about Jesus. But given the way his message has been co-opted by the forces of oppression (like the U.S. right, both Protestant and Catholic), the question presents itself: Is Christianity and its Jesus responsible for the fact that (as I said) the world continued much as before . . .?

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  4. It’s a tricky question. We don’t know how the world would have been without him, so cannot be sure it did continue as before. I like this..

    “After my departure there will arise the ignorant and the crafty, and many things will they ascribe unto Me that I never spake, and many things which I did speak will they withhold, but the day will come when the clouds shall be rolled away, and the Sun of Righteousness shall shine forth with healing in his wings.”

    Jesus
    The Gospel of the Holy Twelve

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