Pentecost 22 – 21 October 2018
Isaiah 53.4-12; Ps 91.9-16; Heb 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45
“all we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’
Last week saw a vast number of pilgrims congregate from all over the world in the Piazza San Pedro in Rome to share in the ceremony of the canonisation of five new saints in the Roman catholic church, among them Oscar Romero.
As you may already know, Romero was a priest in the Salvadorian church who campaigned tiredlessly for the right and dignity of the poor, and in particularly kept challenging the government on human rights abuse. He had been stirred to focus particularly on this important work after one of his friends had been murdered for helping to organise self-reliance groups among the poor.
Romero became archbishop of San Salvador, and was a tireless communicator, preaching fearlessly and broadcasting his sermons weekly.
In these sermons, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders, and much more each Sunday, and they soon became the main source for people to know what was really happening. They were followed regularly by 73% of the rural population and 37% of the urban population of San Salvador.
As someone who was speaking unpalatable truths about the powers in place, he knew he was taking huge risks, but nevertheless he believed that his work, fuelled by his deep faith and theology, was vital for the people of God in his country.
He was eventually shot while presiding at Mass in the chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence, in 1980.
In a speech to the University of Louvain in Belgium, in February 1980, Romero had spoken out about the persecution of the church in his country as follows:
“In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs–they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country].
Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands…. But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.
In our readings today, and in particularly our Gospel reading, we are again challenged by the lack of understanding by even Jesus’ own disciples about the purpose of his work.
The squabble between James and John, seeking pride of place and positions of power after death will strike us as utterly futile as well as misguided in the light of everything we may know about the work and ministry of Jesus and the way in which he related to the people who came to him, the people he had in his care.
Because for Jesus, leadership for God is not about self-aggrandisement, it is not about the benefits one might be obtained at the end of the day, not about a possible glory to come.
Instead, it is about truly following in the model of the servant, seeking to find the needs around, and seeking to respond to them.
In order to be true disciples, we – and James and John – need to forget about ourselves in order to focus on others, we need to move our focus from the benefits we receive for what we do to the benefits we are able to achieve for those we serve. We are to be fearless in living out our faith even if it means walking the same path as Jesus, a path which Oscar Romero followed to the end, in speaking truth to power, and in putting our own life on the line for the sake of the gospel, the Good News of God.
The other ten disciples turned on the sons of Zebedee, but it is not clear from the rest of their stories that they had understood Jesus’s purposes much better than they did, and of course – even for us, with much hindsight and countless examples of faithful lives – it is often hard to know how well we are doing in our own embodying of the Gospel, our own living out of the baptismal promises that we have made.
In the world today, as in the world then, there continues to be endless reasons to stand up to power, there continues to be countless ways in which the poor are abused and marginalised, and there continues to be myriads of opportunities for Christians to serve in helping to bring out God’s liberation to God’s people.
“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing”, wrote John Stuart Mills in 1867.
Today as we consider our own responsibilities in the economy of God, as we reflect on the priesthood of Jesus in which we all share, as we look at our Christian community, we ask ourselves the question once again: how far might we go for the love of Jesus? What risk might we take to make the kingdom of God real now? What would we be prepared to give up in order that others might live their lives in their fulness?
Cathedral communities such as ours are called to be many things. We are called to be places of excellence in what we do, and certainly there are many things we do well – music, liturgy, reflection, pastoral care – even its probably true that we like everyone -can always improve in all respects.
Nevertheless, despite all these good things we do, it can sometimes feel as if the world is walking by our building without taking notice, without being challenged, without realising the power house that we can be, when we truly seek to live out the life that Jesus had in mind for us, drinking the cup that he drank, and being baptised with the baptism he was baptised with.
We are not all called to martyrdom, in the way that Oscar Romero was, but nevertheless, I wonder whether we might think for a moment, now and as we return home, about the ways in which our faith has affected our life and how it might have caused us to act, stand out, speak against power and on behalf of the marginalised.
When was the last time that your Christian life made you feel out of step, unpopular, as you stood for those for whom God send his son?
When was the last time that we, as a community, did something really edgy, truly prophetic, that spoke to the heart of the Gospel?
We have a lovely heritage building and music tradition on which we are lavishly spending time, energy and resources. But how will these and the many other assets of which we are custodians serve God’s bigger purpose of love, justice and peace in the world today?
And individually, as you survey the areas of your life in which you have the ability to make changes for good, how are you seizing the opportunities to serve?
As we are once again together fed at the table of the one who gathers us, strengthens us, and sends us out in the world, let us continue to pray for discernment, vision, creativity, energy and courage as we continue God’s mission to a troubled and broken world.