As people of faith, I suspect that many of us can associate ourselves with Jeremiah’s desperate cries for help from God and then seemingly his cries being ignored by God. Jeremiah is so disheartened, his spirit is so deflated, that he says: …. ‘OK, from now on I might as well pray to lose my faith altogether and pray to be consumed by melancholy and misery, simply because that is exactly what is happening to me in life. My prayers for help are falling on deaf ears, …. God’s deaf ears!’
How many millions of people in the world are praying to God for help at this very moment perhaps for similar reasons as Jeremiah did? How many people in the world have felt crushed by situations in life over which they have little or no control? Why do the innocent suffer from starvation or malnutrition, war, injustice, poverty, slavery, brutality, disease? These are perennial questions which are constantly in the mind of humanity.
Since the middle of the 19th century, Philosophers thought they had the answer with the birth of Socialism in various disguises. This philosophy was heralded as the panacea, the cure-all, the magic potion to rid the world of inequality, the hoped-for philosophical knight in shining armour coming to the rescue of subjugated man.
So, what happened to the altruistic notion of a ‘fare-share-for-all’ world? Well, even before my lifetime it had morphed into totalitarianism, despotism, dictatorship, repression, oppression and tyranny. What had been omitted from the equation was the weaknesses and selfishness of those in authority.
Today growing state control is flexing its muscles on our doorstep in Europe as we view the turmoil growing in European states; we have been viewing it for years in the Middle East, the Far East, China, Africa, South America, North America! It has mutated in various forms into the corporate world. One has to ask the question: ‘What is freedom? and another question ‘who is free in a democratic society?
To be fair, there are philanthropists who do their best to alleviate some of the hardships inflicted on those who are struggling with life. During the industrial revolution, some factory owners created their own ‘welfare-state’ for their employees, building houses, schools, medical facilities, and other amenities for the wellbeing of the workforce, but the majority of the workforce struggled to retain their dignity as best they could. Throughout the world God’s people are distressed in one degree or another.
During his ministry on earth, Jesus had cause to pray to his Father when he was distressed. Sweating blood out of stress, which is a medical fact, either physical, or psychological or both. Jesus said to his Father, ‘take this cup from me’ …. the very thought of what is going to happen to me [namely his scourging and crucifixion] is consuming me with dread, ‘but if it is your will that I should endure this trauma for the sake of mankind, if that is the price I have to pay to demonstrate your love for humanity, then I’ll accept your will.’ Jesus alludes to that in today’s gospel when he tells his disciples that in Jerusalem he would suffer grievously at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death ……… and to be raised up on the third day!
Today’s gospel brought to my mind an unforgettable occasion when Jesus warned his followers of how difficult it would be to ‘follow in his steps.’ Did Jesus come to bring peace on earth? …. No! He says: …. ‘I came to bring division! Even within families! Mother against Daughter, Mother in Law against Daughter in Law, Father against Son’. [Luke 12:53] The cost of following Jesus, of following the will of God can mean separation from family and friends, and in some countries even today, can mean a loss of freedom. Martyrs for the faith are suffering every day.
The personal cost to Jesus as the perfect sacrifice for the remission of the sins of mankind was horrendous. That the thought of his death caused him distress has to be the understatement of understatements. The personal cross he asks us to carry means honouring our baptismal vows irrespective of the personal cost, of life, of goods, of status. It’s a big ask, and today, many people find that the price of honouring faith is too costly.
However, there is one way we can demonstrate the care and love we have for our fellow man and honour Christ at the same time, and I quote from a homily of St John Chrysostom.
He starts by asking this question:
‘Would you honour the body of Christ? [If you do] Do not despise his nakedness; [do not walk away from those in need] Do not honour him here in church clothed in silk vestments and then pass him by unclothed and frozen outside. Remember that he who said, ‘This is my body’, and made good his words, also said, ‘You saw me hungry and gave me no food’, and ‘in so far as you did it not to one of these, you did it not to me’. In the first sense the body of Christ does not need clothing but worship from a pure heart. In the second sense it does need clothing and all the care we can give it. The People of God are the Body of Christ. We are Temples of the Lord, and those in need are our responsibility.’
We honour our baptism into the Body of Christ by caring for those in distress, whoever they are, and wherever they are.