Sunday Gospel Reflection for 32nd Sunday of the Year, November 6th With Fr Brian Maher OMI
As Jesus moved from town to town, village to village, there were always groups waiting to harass and ridicule him. Some were well meaning, good living, honest Jews who feared the Law of Moses, so vital to their understanding of God, was in some way being eroded or subverted by Jesus. Others, however, were religious bigots, religious idealists, and those, mostly wealthy and powerful, who were fearful of Jesus growing popularity.
In today’s parlance we would probably see them operating on the Internet as ‘trolls’ and ‘cyberbullies’, constantly seeking to undermine his message of the Kingdom of God.
In our modern world we know only too well the damage ‘trolling’ can do. We have seen and read the harrowing accounts of young people who take their own lives because of the constant name calling and false stories spread about them. Likewise, we have seen how seasoned politicians and public figures can be broken by this constant persecution.
It is important, I think, to understand that, almost from the start of his ministry, Jesus was subjected to almost constant intimidation. The Gospels are filled with accounts of encounters Jesus had with groups seeking to trap him or make fun of him. On at least two occasions we are told of Jesus having to escape a town because of threats to his life. The Gospels also, sadly, follow the slow, careful, and orchestrated plotting which lead to his death.
It is too easy for us to imagine Jesus living in some kind of ‘divine bubble’, where he sailed from town to town, performing miracles, holding crowds spellbound with his stories and teachings and enjoying popstar-like adulation. The idea that it was only in Holy Week that it all went wrong and his suffering began is very far from the picture the Gospels give us. Jesus lived a fraught and pressurised life, hassled and harried, sometimes having to almost ‘escape’ the crowds to get some rest, and having to get up very early in the morning to do what he knew was most important for him – pray. In John 4:6, we are given a beautiful snapshot of what I often imagine the life of Jesus must have been like: “…and Jesus, tired by the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.” There must have been many, many wells he sat by, tired and maybe even dispirited, seeking a few moments of rest and peace.
Today’s Gospel is a striking example of the type of pressure Jesus constantly lived with. The Sadducees were a group within Jewish society representing the rich and powerful – the ‘upper-class’ of Judaism. They were well educated and trained public speakers. Coming face-to-face with a group of these men, well prepared with barbed questions would have been a daunting prospect. They had the advantage of education, wealth, and political power while Jesus was alone with an odd assortment of fishermen, zealots, the poor, and public sinners for his close friends and followers. Yet, not only did he take them on, but he emerged as winner of the encounter.
Like so many things in power and politics, the actual question they asked didn’t really matter. It was limited and purely legalistic, used only as the trap they hoped he’d fall into. If he debated with them on their narrow terms he could not have won the argument. Instead, as he always did, he refused to be drawn into restricted black and white reasoning and widened the question to find its meaning.
Why, you might ask, does all of this matter?
At the Last Supper, when Jesus washed his disciples feet, he said to them, “I leave you an example that you should do what I have done for you.” (Jn13:15) Many of us don’t really believe this. We say, “but he was God…” or “he could work miracles”, and while at one level that is true, during his time on this earth Jesus was truly human. It is impossible to read the Gospels honestly and not realise this.
Therefore, it seems to me that the example he left us can be followed, and if we call ourselves Christian, must be followed. Jesus did walk the same paths as we walk, his life journey started from birth and ended in death, just as our life journey does. He was tempted as we are; he was misunderstood and rejected and betrayed by friends just as we are at times; he was tired and dispirited just as we are; he was worried and anxious and unsure, just as we are.
Jesus had to work his way through all of these emotions, and he had to do so in a negative, pressurised atmosphere where he was always being set-up for failure and ridicule.
His life and his responses to those he met every day, are truly examples we can follow. When he said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends…” he meant it. He qualifies to relate to us as friend and we qualify to relate to him as friend because we, like Jesus, were born into the same world; we walk the same roads; we breath the same air, and we experience the joys and sorrows of human life and death together.
And when he said, after his Resurrection had vindicated his life and death, that “I am with you always, to the end of time.” He meant that too. We are truly never alone, even when we don’t see it. Jesus calls us ‘friend’ because we are truly worthy of his friendship, even when we don’t feel we are. Jesus always forgives us and never judges or condemns us because he knows what we go through, and he understands our frailties and weaknesses because he shared all of them with us.
What else can this Gospel teach us? Simple! Avoid getting into narrow, black and white, right or wrong, arguments with anyone. See beyond the detail to the meaning. Search for the life and joy and peace which is always present in that which is of God.
Isn’t the conclusion of Jesus, that “our God is God of the living….and to him all are alive…”, so much nicer and infinitely more important than which brother is husband to a hypothetical widow, after the Resurrection?
Saint Teresa of Avila, a great mystic of the 16th Century, talked a lot about how important it is for us to understand and spend time with the humanity of Jesus. She said, “It is important that while we are living and are human, we have human support. Jesus is a very good friend because we behold him as man and see him with weaknesses and trials, and he is company for us.”
St. Teresa certainly does not need my endorsement, but I am certain she is right.
|Gospel Reading Sunday November 6th||Luke 20:27-38 ©|
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