HOMILY FOR THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, 2014
Dear Lord Jesus when I reflect on your words which have been proclaimed this morning, I am overwhelmed with the sense of my imperfections. I am so far from meeting your demands, from living up to the standards that you are laying out for me that I want to bow my head and cry. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. How difficult that seems. Certainly I can never be perfect on my own. I can´t begin to achieve this by myself- help me Lord Jesus! Help me to be less imperfect!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope you are further down the road to living Jesus’ commands to us than I am. How does this morning’s Gospel make you feel? “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer”. If we do not resist evil and those who do evil, will we not be overrun and enslaved by evil? This question I think is at the core of a tension that exists in our Christian heritage, which is precisely the one of dealing with evil when it strikes us. It also has ramifications when we must consider going to war and doing military service. Some of our Christian traditions are solidly pacifist. Others are not pacifist at all, and we march off to war with our chaplains in tow.
You have heard versions and variations of this story in some parts of Central America and Mexico. You are driving and you are at a stoplight. There is a tap on your window. When you look, a motorcyclist is tapping on your window with the barrel of a gun, to get your attention. You do not have a bulletproof car. The person tapping asks for your phone, your wallet, your purse, your laptop. Hopefully you look in your rear-view mirror, and you see that there is another motorcycle behind you. Resist the urge to try to run over your assailant with your car-he is operating in tandem with someone on another motorcycle, and resistance is likely to earn you a bullet in the brain. Give the person whatever he is asking for. No phone, purse, wallet or automobile is worth your life. Here is a clear-cut example of a situation in which you or I are better off not resisting evil. I pray that I will have the sense to not resist, if my turn comes.
If you read the newspapers in this region, almost every day there is a story about someone shot dead on a street for refusing to give up their cellphone. Or there will be a story about several persons killed and wounded on a bus, because someone resisted a hold-up, pulled out a gun, and began shooting. Sometimes one or more of the bad guys are hit, but frequently there is an exchange of gunfire in which innocent bystanders and passengers are wounded or killed. Maybe the person who resisted is among those hurt or killed as well. Again, if you are travelling on a bus, what can you be carrying that is worth your life? In situations like these Jesus’ words make good sense.
Nonetheless there are events or occurrences in history where not resisting evil, where turning the other cheek can lead to massive numbers of deaths. I am thinking of the Shoah, or holocaust, of course, but also of the Khmer Rouge exterminating anyone literate in Cambodia, and the Bahutu extermination of the Batutsi among them in Rwanda. In the end these situations ended only because there were military actions, often tragically late, which finally put an end to these evils and to the ongoing slaughter of innocents. The rebellion of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto in 1944 against their Nazi exterminators did not save their lives. But in retrospect it allowed Jews to feel that not everywhere did they go quietly to their slaughter. But what is the value of feeling that?
Look at what else Jesus is asking of us: “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” If we apply these two injunctions literally, there might be a flurry of activity as beggars discover that we will give to all of them. When people realize that we will refuse no loan, how long will it be before we are as poor as the people who came begging and asking to borrow from us? In Jesus’ Kingdom this is how we are meant to be and live.
We can respond to Jesus’ commands on two levels, I think. There are those who do give up their possessions and divest themselves of their goods and belongings. We have the example of Saint Francis of Assisi and other saints who renounced position, privilege, family, wealth and comfort and voluntarily became poor to follow our Lord Jesus. On another level, many of us lead our lives in a sometimes tangled skein of relationships with others, many of whom we love, (and some whom we might not, but we feel duty-bound) for whom we need to care. They may be children, a spouse or aged parents. They may be friends or partners or lovers. To care for those who are part of our network of relationships we administer our belongings, our wealth if you will, in a prudent and judicious way so as to be able to meet the needs of those who are part of our circle of love and responsibility. For those of us who cannot fully respond to Jesus’ challenge, Jesus is goading us to open up, to widen the circle of community, to do more, to be more open to others and their needs.
“You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby touched on something very important in his sermon in August of 2013 at Saint James Cathedral in Guatemala City. In this world of strife and warfare, Christians need to bear witness to reconciliation. Reconciliation is what Jesus did for us when he died on the cross. He reconciled us to God.
“So he says live it out. Overflow with the reconciliation we have received from God, who changes our relationship to Him and to each other, who enables us to be different. He says, “Be the teachers of my way, and my way is peace and justice and love, not violence, bitterness and conflict.” The gift of the church to the world is reconciliation. We have been given it as a gift for ourselves so that we may know God, and we have been given it to learn.”
Reconciliation means embracing the other, reaching out to the other. It means recognizing in the “other” whom we might initially hate and fear, the image of God in whom that “other” was made, just as we were. If we learn to do this we will be walking with Jesus. We will have started down the road Jesus is pointing us to, becoming “children of our Father in heaven”. Is this easy? I think not. We must ask God again and again, and not just as in today’s collect, to send His Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts his greatest gift, which is love. Without love we are accounted dead before Him. And we must pray for those who hate us, and those whom we ourselves fear. Please visit Page 816 in your Book of Common Prayer, and let us together pray God for our enemies:
“O God the father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Thanks to Mad Priest for photo
Thanks to Mad Priest for photo
St. Alban English Mission, Antigua, Guatemala is a outreach project of The St. James English parish, Episcopal Diocese of Guatemala, IARCA
The Most Reverend Armando Guerra Soria, Rector and Primate
The Reverend Ricardo Frohmader, Associate Minister
St Alban Mission holds services every Sunday at Noon
Casa Convento Concepcion, Antigua GuatemalaAll are welcome - See welcome letter at the sidebar