Readings for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: ZEC. 12:10-11; 13:1; Ps. 63: 2=6, 8-9; Gal. 3: 26-29; Lk. 9:18-24
Why are we Christians so afraid of own deaths while at the same time so indifferent to the horrors we inflict on innocent others? Our attitude stands sharply condemned in today’s Liturgy of the Word.
To begin with, think about our nationwide hysteria to the horrendous massacre in the Orlando nightclub last week. Contrast that understandable reaction with our collective yawn in the face of the American bombing of the Doctors without Borders trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in October of last year. The attack killed at least 30 people, including 13 medical staff, 10 patients and 7 unidentified people.
And Kunduz was not an isolated incident. Orlando-gauge tragedies are a daily phenomenon under completely illegal U.S. drone and bombing campaigns that kill far more innocent civilians than so-called “combatants.”
But there are no Hands across the Continents movements for the victims of our government’s terrorism. Rather there is hardly any notice in the mainstream media or awareness by U.S. citizens – no teddy bears, shrines, candles, and love notes. Just excuses on the part of the killers.
And even Christians go along with the too-familiar process as though supporting such mayhem were not only patriotic, but in accord with our faith.
All of that reveals a near obsession with saving our own lives at the expense of others – just the opposite of what’s required of believers in today’s Gospel reading.
There Luke tells us that Jesus has just emerged from a period of solitary prayer. That experience has evidently brought the Master face-to-face with his fundamental God-identity – an identity Paul tells us in the second reading, is shared by all of us who are, the apostle reminds us, “children of God” just like Jesus. Since we exist “in Christ,” Paul implies, we can learn something from the experience of Jesus and from the attitudes he expressed in his words and actions. We should be able to see ourselves “in Christ.”
In any case, Jesus has just encountered the God within. According to the responsorial from Psalm 63, that God is not only powerful and glorious, but our ultimate source of help, support, and joy in life’s greatest difficulties. For that God each of us should be thirsting, the Psalmist says, like parched ground for water. In fact, God’s kindness is more valuable than life itself. Or as the psalmist puts it, God’s kindness is “a greater good than life.” This seems to mean that it’s more important for believers to be kind (i.e. non-violent) than to survive.
With those insights in mind, Jesus decides to share them with his disciples. So he asks a leading question about identity: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (Jesus really wants his friends to face who they are!) The disciples have a ready response. After all, everyone is talking about Jesus. “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead,” they say. “Others say you are Elijah or one of the prophets come back to life.”
“But who do you say I am?” Jesus insists.
Peter speaks for the others. “You are God’s anointed,” he says – “the Messiah.”
Jesus knows what Peter has in mind. For a Jew living under the Roman jackboot, “Messiah” could mean only one thing – the leader of The War against Rome.
So Jesus says, “Don’t call me that! I am not the Christ you imagine! No, I’m a human being like the rest of you.
“Yes, I’m as much against the Roman enemy as you are.” Like the ‘Son of Man’ in the Book of Daniel, I reject all the enemies of our people in the name of Yahweh our God. I am a patriot just like you – and the prophet Daniel. But rather than use violence to conquer our enemies, I am willing to lose my life even if it means crucifixion at the hands of Rome. They cannot kill my real Self; I will rise again and again despite the way they terrorize us all. In the final analysis the God within all of us cannot be defeated.
“And there’s more. All of you must all be prepared to follow my example – even if it means rejection by the religious establishment and a cross imposed by our foreign enemies. In fact, I tell you all, anyone who tries to save his or her life will lose it.
“Don’t you realize that by killing others, you are killing your Self? You are murdering the God within. But those who follow my example of non-violent resistance will actually save their Selves. They will preserve their in-born unity with the divine core shared by all of God’s children. Don’t be afraid to follow my example of non-violent resistance. You will emerge victorious in the end.”
That, I think, is what Jesus means in this morning’s gospel with his talk about losing life and saving it = with his words about denying self and carrying one’s cross. Suffering, terrorism, and even national enslavement are not the end of the world.
Yes, even national enslavement! The prophet Zachariah makes that point in today’s first reading. Writing at the end of the 6th century BCE, he addresses an Israel defeated and enslaved in Babylon for more than 50 years. They survived, he reminds them. And somehow they’re better off than before. They’ve been purified as if by a gushing fountain.
Of course, the attack in Orlando portends nothing like national defeat by “terrorists.” Such threats to our homeland are remote and relatively insignificant. Americans are more likely to be hit by lightning or killed in an auto accident than by a terrorist attack.
Instead, it is our country’s response to terrorism that threatens us with defeat – responses like the massacre in Kunduz and the killing of civilians in drone attacks. According to Jesus and Zachariah, accepting life’s lessons administered by a foreign enemy might even lead to national purification.
Paradoxically, however, doomed efforts to save our lives through violence will bring about the end we so fearfully seek to avoid.
As Jesus himself put it: “. . . those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake (that is, as a result of living ‘in Christ’) will save it.”
Jesus’ instruction today makes it incumbent on all of us to resist our country’s unending wars and state-sponsored terrorism.