I wondered, this week, why there is such a reaction against someone who speaks and stands up for love and justice, inclusivity, equality and compassion? I thought of people like Archbishop Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King jr, both of whom stood up for justice. They spoke the way of love and sought equality for different groups of people and both were cut down, assassinated, because of who they were and what they spoke out for. It does seem that the world can’t always deal with love or justice and many people can’t face being challenged over our own prejudices or place in the world. We feel uncomfortable being challenged about how we perceive the world or our place within it.
There is much going on at the moment to challenge my ways of thinking and being. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and protests have awakened within our society questions and struggles. I have been very challenged as it comes at a time when I have been reading Dark Emu and realising the profoundness and sophistication of the most ancient culture in the world – the Australian Aboriginal People. I am disturbed to read how the white colonial culture of this land assumed that the Indigenous people were savages, and ignorant natives who were not organised nor had they any culture, sophistication or ordered life of agriculture – or anything else. Despite the evidence before the eyes of early explorers and landholders, they chose to ignore it or interpret it otherwise. The prejudices of a white colonial system in the Age of Discovery, where the culture was to overwhelm and dominate native peoples across the world and claim lands for the Empires of the West, denied the reality that people who looked and lived differently were and are equally human. The massacres and enslavement of native people, including our own Aboriginal people, are truly horrific and white culture has benefited, in a material sense, from the demise and destruction of indigenous ownership and culture.
When this is spoken of there is reaction and accusation and the status quo strikes back. We are uncomfortable and need to shift the blame or responsibility elsewhere. When the history stories many of us learned at school last century are challenged there is resistance, with phrases such as ‘the black armband view of history.’ When protests and voices spoke out to say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ there were other voices who wanted to claim that ALL lives matter. This is true: every life is important, significant and valuable. The point of those who call for Black lives to matter are not claiming that black lives are more important than any others. They are asking for black lives to matter as much as other lives!
In our world, it is clear that some people and people types have less value than others. The wealthy and powerful have more privileges and control the systems of power that maintain the status quo. They are very hard to resist and decision-makers listen to them very carefully. There are many people across our world who work incredibly hard to feed and house their families and they only just make ends meet. I know of people in West Papua, our nearest neighbours, who are oppressed and dominated by the powerful Indonesian rulers who ‘own’ the land. The Indigenous West Papuans are wonderful people who struggle to live and provide safe and good lives for their families and when they speak out for justice, the powers rise up and resist with weapons and punishment. Their homelands are ruined by mining companies who wreak havoc on the environment and leave it destroyed and dangerous.
When people speak out against these kinds of evils there is resistance and violence. When politics, cultural expectations and assumptions are challenged, there is reaction and anger. When the church, or anyone, speaks out against injustice, racism, exclusion, violence and impoverishment, there are excuses and resistance and we are told to get back in our box and speak about God who loves and stop making trouble, dabbling in things we know nothing about. At this point I want to respond that Adolph Hitler told the church to be quiet and talk about ‘God is Love’ but not to comment on his regime – and most of the church, in fear, complied, along with many other parts of society.
In the passage this week (Matthew 10:24-42), Jesus continues his speech to the disciples he is sending into the world. He wants them to go and proclaim the Good News of God’s Reign of love and justice for all, to heal the sick, cast out demons and evil, cleanse lepers, bring sight to the blind; to proclaim in words and actions that the Reign of God is here! It is a good message, one that ought to resonate in a world of struggle and hardship but he warns them that they will be rejected by many, cast out of towns and brought before judges and magistrates. They will, if they pursue this ministry of love and justice, follow where he is going – to his death. Ultimately, some of these followers of Jesus will be killed because they dare to name the evils in society and proclaim another way that includes and loves, and brings justice and peace – for all. There will be those who are the status quo and they will resist with all their power. Jesus ended up on the cross!
Jesus invites these ordinary, lowly people to follow his way because, although it will be harsh, difficult at moments, it will be a life lived. It will be a life lived in God who holds everything in grace and no matter what people do to these faithful disciples, they will never be able to separate them from the profound love of God. There is also nothing else that will ever be able to fill the yearning and hope in the centre of their being and give them a sense of being alive! I read a reflection called ‘Journey With Jesus’ by Debie Thomas. In it she says:
“What should we be most afraid of? Not insult. Not change. Not persecution. Not death. What we should fear, these passages of Scripture tell us, is a life half-lived. A life of blandness and niceness, a life of disengaged devotion, a life of piety without power. What we should fear is any Christianity that is not cruciform.”
I was struck by these words and wondered about them. How many of us live lives that succumb to the culture of our world and give up the dreams or hopes that lie within our hearts? How many of us give in to the powers of the world and believe the rhetoric that seeks to keep us all in our place? How many of us are confined by fear – fear of change or the powers or punishment…? How many of us glimpse other possibilities but aren’t sure about what we might have to give up and never follow where they lead?
In these words, Jesus is quite firm, saying that there is a way in God that requires courage and faith, that demands we take a stand and step forward into something deep, rich and confronting. When I read the stories and words of Paul in the New Testament, this is a man, alive. When I hear Jesus’ words I recognise a wisdom and passion that draws me on to wherever he will lead and whatever that might mean. It is the invitation to find life in God and the recognition that God’s Spirit will guide and strengthen. Will we go?