Homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent 2007
Some people who reflect on the relationship between the Church and what is called our secular society describe it in this way:
Secular society accepts the Church if it confines itself to welfare and helps people at that level and doesn't talk about God or social justice.
Secular society accepts the Church if it remains a servant of public religion offering rites of passage to children and marriages and funerals of movie stars.
Secular society accepts the Church if if speaks only of values and ethics and not of Christian spirituality.
Secular society accepts the Church if it just recycles our cultural heritage.
That is one reading of the situation. In any case secular society would rather the Church, that is us, would keep our thinking and faith to ourselves. Faith it would seem should only be part of that private sphere of life that has no place in the affairs of the world.
The reading from the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, is one of the key passages in understanding the whole of the Scriptures. Here for the first time God calls the Hebrew slaves held captive in Egypt "his people". The historical roots of the stories of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are lost in the mists of time and legend. But with Moses we have an identifiable time and place in which the events took place. The Exodus experience became the metaphor describing God's relationship to the world which appears again and again in the Scriptures. We heard it referred to today in the reading from Paul (1 Corinthians 10:1-12).
A reluctant Moses, who had escaped to the wilderness from Egypt, married and leading a quiet life, has an encounter with the divine at the burning bush. He asks what god is interested enough to want to rescue the Hebrew slaves? So he asks, What is your name? God answers simply yet enigmatically, "I am who I am." This god is not just one amongst many others one could choose from. This god is not just a god of a particular tribe or people. This God is much more. Yet this God is at the same time God for them. This anticipates Jesus own destiny as Emmanuel, "God with you" as servant and friend.
The pronouncements of priests and bishops don't often change the way the world thinks. Jesus mostly listened and responded to people's questions and situations. His life and words attracted people enough so that they wanted to know what kind of person he was. Where does he come from? What is this power at work in him?
We hear today from the Gospel of Luke that his listeners were wondering about the fate of people killed in the two disasters. Pilate had brutally murdered people in the Temple precincts such that their blood mingled with that of the animals sacrificed for the altar. Then there was a terrible accident where people were killed when a tower fell on them. It was a question of fairness and justice. Those people killed must have been pretty bad for this to happen to them. That was the current thinking. Jesus reply was to deny that approach. If God were to keep account of all our faults, he suggests, we should all surely deserve a similar terrible fate. But that is not the God he knows and loves. Yet the warning is clear though. If we are all sinners then we should always be prepared for what might happen to us.
Neither is the thinking of the secular world changed much by the kind of bible basher who sometimes turns up in a work place. Some people think that their mission is to preach to their workmates. It usually turns people away in annoyance.
What is needed is for Christian people to live the Gospel in their everyday lives such that, just as happened to Jesus, people will ask, what kind of person is this who lives and speaks in such a way? A person who can speak with justice and compassion, open and generous to others even within the constraints of the corporate, political and everyday world.
We can bring Christ to any sphere of life as long as we don't think we can just impose our views. It is God working through us that does the changing. We are to be a leaven in all those areas of family life, science and culture, economic and political life, social action, promotion of reconciliation and peace, human dignity, the environment and so on. This is what the Vatican Council asked of us way back. A leaven works unseen, bringing life and growth. It works with what is already there to help make something new.
In it all we need the same patience with each other and the world as God has with us. Like the gardener who pleaded with the owner to let him fertilise the fig tree just one more year to see if it bears fruit or not. God offers us time to change.
We all want a messiah. The Jews of Jesus day weren't alone in this. We do wish there were someone who could solve our problems whether they be personal or all those major issues that beset us like drug addiction, suicide, poverty, war etc. But as we know, Jesus was not that kind of messiah. So we can't expect to find one ourselves. What we do need to do, as a Church, to seek continual conversion first of all. That is try to see life and the world as Jesus does. To take to heart Jesus' refusal to judge people out of hand and offer forgiveness. To live with the consequences of our decisions no matter how difficult they are. Such is the opportunity given each Lent.
So if we get our Parish Community Centre built it is not just to feather our own nests. It is so that we might better support one another and equip ourselves to live the Gospel out there in Currie St or wherever we might be.