I have been continuing to read this week about the Black Lives Matter movement, trying to understand what is happening, to see what I can do as I hear the cries for justice on a range of causes reverberating around the world. The issues may be different on the surface, but underneath, they point to despair about how our world has been structured to benefit people like us.
In Australia we see the long running demands for justice for our indigenous sisters and brothers for all 437 deaths in custody, over the last three decades without a single person brought to account. We have ongoing calls for justice for refugees and asylum seekers. We see the ‘Me Too’ movement about the abuses, casual violence and murder of women; and, the ongoing fight for inclusion and justice for people with different sexualities. The church and our wider society continue to face into our history of child sexual abuse. And, there is the growing desire by many to save the planet with climate change threatening our way of living. I’m sure you can think of other movements as well.
When we take the time to look at what is happening, the demand for change must start with us as Jesus’ disciples. We need to change the way we think and live in God’s creation, as the urgency of these movements will only continue to grow.
So how does this fit with the good news of God’s kingdom? Matthew said:
Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Matt.9:35-36
Our desire to be healed drives us; our yearning to hear the good news keeps us going, while lack of action, outright corruption and wilful blindness lead us to despair.
In Matthew’s text we hear Jesus’ call to come into the kingdom as he gives us some extraordinary directions for our lives and commitment as disciples. Like the 12, we are being sent out as apostles, healing as we go, and ‘proclaiming the good news, the kingdom of heaven has come near’. Jesus goes on to say:
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leper, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.Matt: 10:8
Jesus gives to his disciples the capacity to do as he has done. We have spent time with him, watched and listened to him and Jesus is now giving us authority to serve in the way he served. We are to do what Jesus has been doing.
This is more than being obedient to Jesus’ commissioning. It is Jesus’ way of life in ministry. We are to imitate Jesus in the way we live as disciples, having compassion and responding with all we have to the needs of those around us.
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples to stay in one place when they arrive somewhere new, bless it if it is worthy, and if not, let the blessing of peace be returned and leave.
Consequently, I have wondered whether and how often we are the unreceptive households or community refusing to hear the kingdom of heaven is at hand because we don’t like the disciples’ story.
I wondered if Jesus’ disciples are now the very people we resist listening to; the vulnerable, the sick and dying, even the contemporary lepers whom I listed at the start of this reflection leading the protests at the moment? What if we cannot be trusted to welcome these people into the household of faith and hear their cries about God’s inbreaking kingdom? What if we cannot see Jesus in them? What if the peace they offer us is withdrawn?
A rabbinic teaching reflects Sodom was destroyed not simply for being unwelcoming of strangers, but because it codified its inhospitality, adding a requirement for every household and gathering to refuse hospitality to strangers lest the town be overrun by those they didn’t like. How often have we in the church, our community and country done this, literally and metaphorically and continue to do so today?
To observe the kingdom is to observe Jesus’ work; to participate in the kingdom is to participate in Jesus’ life and work; to understand the kingdom is to know Jesus and through him, God. In watching, learning and participating we are reminded, like Jesus’ disciples, we have been blessed and received plenty without any charge or bill being presented, and so we too, need to give and welcome without a price tag.
We cannot make claims about being better, more worthy, whiter, more male, more Australian, more educated or wealthier without in the same breath recognising this is God’s doing, not ours.
We have not earned participation in the kingdom through our own merit. If we don’t see and understand this point, we have missed the good news. Applying this standard in our lives physically, emotionally and spiritually, demands we see Jesus in everyone else without discrimination.
As disciples we know life is relational with neighbours, ourselves and God. We cannot reject those who are different to us because we don’t like or don’t want to share, because they too are created by God, loved by God and welcomed by God.
In 1473, Catherine of Genoa had a powerful experience of God’s love for her. She gave up a privileged life to care for the sick and poor in hospital. She wrote:
As for heaven, I guess you’ve noticed, God put no doors there. No, God didn’t. And don’t you wonder why? It’s because whoever wants to enter heaven, does. That’s how God’s love works. All-merciful, standing there with God’s arms wide open, God’s waiting – this very moment – to embrace us and take us into God’s splendid beauty and kindnesses.Catherine of Genoa, in A Little Daily Wisdom: Christian Women Mystics, ed. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press 2009:231
As I think about our treatment of those we exclude, I reflect on the experience of Abraham and Sarah welcoming the strangers at their tent. (Gen.18:1-15) An important lesson for us, and I rejoice in this parish’s capacity and loving desire to do the same in all our ministries.
Those who refuse hospitality are guilty not just of poor manners; they are guilty of missing the reign of God brought near through the mission of Jesus’ disciples.
As we reflect on the structural injustices about which people are protesting around the world, at the heart of each cause is rejection, cruel judgement, absence of love and welcome, all built structurally into our societies, cultures and livelihoods. It’s become so normal we clearly don’t see it. It serves our purposes. We defend it when its being challenged.
God has not been invited into this world and God is not welcome as we accept the systemic discrimination, our unconscious privileging, the appalling abuses we inflict out of fear and hatred of others and our unwillingness to change.
Through his speech and actions, Jesus continues to bless the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek and the persecuted. His ministry evokes faith in those receiving the good news of God’s mercy and care and is spreading this wider.
You and I listen to Jesus in the fullness of his compassion for those around him as he asks for labourers in the harvest.
The Gospel has a power of its own. So does the rising opposition to this message as we look around the world. These two centres of power are on a collision course and the tension is rising.
This mission cannot wait for a better time, when the church is better equipped, with the right people, or with the necessary resources. Harvest time is here. Our response to brothers and sisters around the world and in Australia, and as World Refugee Week commences, is to have compassion for all of them, like Jesus as you labour for the harvest.
Accept the authority Jesus has given you over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to cure every disease and every sickness, and recognise this includes discrimination, racism, elitism, unkind judgements, hatred, violence, fear and despair. In doing so you will be working for God’s justice, as you follow Jesus into his kingdom: Jesus said:
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.Luke 4:18-19
The Lord be with you.