The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Isaiah 58:7-10; Psalm 112; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Matthew 5:13-16
We live in a paradoxical period as we watch and experience the conflict between strength and weakness.
We are seeing the rise of “strong men” throughout the world like Putin of Russian, Duterte of the Philippines, Sisi of Egypt, Assad of Syria, Netanyahu of Israel, and President Trump. Leaders who take control and wield power; who get things done. And there is I suppose something to be said for getting things done. In contrast, most nation states pay lip service to the resolutions of the United Nations. Even diplomacy seemingly must be backed by military strength.
There is the struggle taking place within the hierarchy of our Catholic Church as to which direction the Church should move into the future. A group of Cardinals prefer a more black and white approach to Christianity, follow the rules or else. Even the suggestion of letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive the Holy Communion is considered a betrayal. A very different approach from that of Pope Francis who favours dialogue, reconciliation and mercy for people who fall short of moral perfection, echoing John XXIII who preferred persuasive dialogue to condemnations.
This movement and struggle throughout the world as to how to address and proceed today is understandable. In periods characterized by relativism, uncertainty and violence, strength offers at least an apparent state of stability. The problem with diplomacy, dialogue and the art of persuasion is that they are seen as inadequate. Their progress is slow. Their results are often minimal. Initial enthusiasm is exhausted over time by the ponderous hard work of listening and understanding the other person.
Following the rules and punishing those who break them is, well, assuring. Fidelity to divine or perceived divine or autonomous Enlightenment values is self-affirming. Condemnations easily delineate enemies from friends, sinners from saints, losers from winners. Living from such a position of strength, is always easier. It involves power, usually power imposed over someone and is wielded by the few over the majority. Bullying, demonizing, rape, arrogance, terrorism, slavery, abuse, ridicule, human trafficking, anti-Semitism, war, self-righteousness; are they not all forms of strength? But at what cost? The cost of another human being? Is that strength? Is wielding power the same as leadership?
Paul wrote, “When I came to you, brothers and sisters…I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling…I resolved while I was with you to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Not only does Paul admit to his personal weakness and fears but the weakness of his message, a convicted though innocent crucified felon. The factions and power plays he found reported to him in the Corinthian Church reflected the life of the stratified Roman Empire. The preaching of Christ crucified was meant to be a radical alternative to life in imperial Rome or any similar and future society. The Corinthian community regretfully had been molded by the values of imperial Rome rather than be the yeast, the salt or the light necessary to transform Roman society.
“I resolved…to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The powerlessness and scandal of Christ crucified is the climax of a powerless and scandalous life.
The powerlessness of God born as a vulnerable human being. Infants and children continue to be exposed to the whims of adults as they are aborted, abused, and abandoned; as children suffer from the ravages of famine, war, and poverty; as they eke out a living scavenging the world’s garbage dumps for items to sell or made to participate in the sex trade or enslaved. Did you make any connection during Christmas between the crèche scene and the photos of today’s impoverished children?
The scandal of God as a member of an oppressed Jewish people under a Roman military regime that freely used terror and torture to control its subjugated peoples. Can we begin to understand why so many peoples are crossing borders, risking life in overcrowded boats to escape war, torture, and poverty? Do we see in present-day refugees and immigrants Jesus, Mary and Joseph being forced to flee into Egypt escaping a king who wants him murdered? Do we see in the refusal of many nations to accept refugees the inn keeper turning his back on the Holy Family for a place to stay or the Samaritan towns who would not let Jesus enter their territory because he was headed for Jerusalem?
The powerlessness of God as a person unjustly accused, imprisoned and tortured. Who would think that in the 21st century we would witness public torture and crucifixion or that anyone in a civilized society would introduce the topic of torture as a viable option? Is the purposeful and systematic causation of suffering and the brutalization of another human being a viable option for any reason? And this by people who claim the title of Christian.
The scandal of God who came among us as a Jew. Anti–Semitism is on the rise. Christians are being persecuted and martyred. And now due to ignorance and fear, Muslims are being targeted because of the actions of a portion of the membership of their faith.
A scandalous God who has no military, economic or political strength; just the words of an itinerant rabbi that continue to echo over the ages.
“When I came to you,…I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling…I resolved while I was with you to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul was referring to an alternative way of living in the world. The followers of the crucified Christ ought to stand in solidarity with the oppressed, with the vulnerable, with the unjustly imprisoned, with refugees, with people on death row, with people who are stigmatized because in Jesus of Nazareth, God stood in solidarity with people in these situations. God endured these human situations. The followers of the crucified Christ ought to stand in solidarity and work for justice, reconciliation and restoration of people to the community of the church and the community of society.
The Christian position in life is not about wielding power that reflects back on us but in taking a position that reflects the wisdom and power of God. It is found in acknowledging our weakness as Paul did. It is an alternative world view and way of life that will continue to be rejected because it is rooted in God and not us. It is an alternative way of living that trusts in God’s grace, in hidden and mysterious ways, to be yeast, salt and light transforming our world. God’s strength masquerading as weakness and failure – Christ crucified.
From what position do you live your life?