Radical Compassion

Ezekiel 2: 2-5; II Cor 12: 7-10; Mark 6: 1-6

If you didn’t know, the Dali Lama celebrated his 83rd birthday this past week.  83 and still going strong, traveling around the globe.  He may be one the of the last larger than life wisdom figures out there these days and still one of the great prophetic voices going.  One of his consistent themes is compassion.  He says “compassion is the radicalism of our time”.  One, it seems illogical to the mind to have compassion and radical in the same sentence, which is the point.  Two, the fact that we as a human race have to be reminded of being compassionate says a lot about us, that we could forget something so simple.

Now, when he speaks of compassion he isn’t speaking as we often associate it.  We have a tendency to make it into a pity party of sorts for people who have less than us, have it worse off than us, and really a sense of inferiority.  That’s obviously not his point.  He takes it from a more literal sense of being moved with passion to do something in the face of injustice, suffering, hurt and pain.  He recognizes that there is no wall that separates us from the other, especially when it comes to injustice and suffering.  It’s what makes his message so prophetic even to this day, a gentle message of compassion and love, radical for our time.

When we think of the prophetic voices, though, we often think of fire and brimstone, going out and beating the message over Israel, as we often hear in the first reading throughout the year.  It’s as if they have to be the loudest voice heard and yet often gets drowned out by all the noise.  It’s what the political and religious leaders often did.  Fire and brimstone was a way of controlling the masses and invoking fear into the people they want to control.  It’s not until Ezekiel, in this case, comes to a greater understanding of his own humanity through the Word that he begins to find that prophetic voice within and more often than not, the quietest of the voices speaking from the depths of his soul.  It’s why it is so easily drowned out by all the noise and the false prophets of their time and ours. 

It certainly doesn’t mean that somehow Israel changed all its ways and everything was great.  Israel rarely changes despite being freed from slavery.  They begin to feel entitled in that way and become hard of heart and a rebellious people as he tells us today.  Like us, change is slow and happens one by one more than an entire nation.  You’d think that Israel, of all, would know and understand the power of the Word.  Ezekiel tells us today that it the very act of consuming the Word and being consumed by it when he can begin to be transformed by it and all that separates fall apart.  It’s the religious and political leaders that want the division, not the God who sets them free.  Yet, the noise gets to them.  The fear gets to them.  They gradually begin to give in and become hard of heart, obstinate, and unable to hear the prophetic voice.  It gets drowned out.  It’s not just them that are called to be the prophetic voice.  It’s all of us.  Everyone of us that comes to this font is baptized priest, prophet, and king.  We only grow in that when we, like Ezekiel, consume and become consumed by the Word, moving us to this radical compassion towards a hurting humanity.

Paul runs into the same obstacle.  He’s struggling with Corinth today as he often does because they too are becoming consumed by false prophets.  His voice and message seems to be falling on deaf ears.  They become convinced that they don’t need that message and over time they begin to exclude, separate, become us versus them, leave people out of the celebration of their Eucharist, and all the rest.  Paul struggles greatly with them because he’s aware of all that they can be and yet they give in so easily to the noise of their time.  Paul, like all the prophets, aware of their own humanity and consumed by the Word, find the quiet in their lives in order to allow that prophetic voice to grow within them.  It never seems to overtake all the noise, but one by one people are moved to that compassion where walls no longer separate and we can see the other as ourselves, the other as Christ.

As we hear in the gospel today it was no different for the Word made Flesh.  Jesus struggles upon returning home today where they too had become hardened and jaded.  All they could see and hear are their own expectations of who he is, which of course is less than he really is.  They get caught up in the chatter and the noise of their own making and the word gets lost.  They consume the noise rather than the Word.  The crazy thing is that Jesus wasn’t even doing anything magical or even spectacular.  He, as we often hear, is moved to compassion for the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the one who has been pushed aside and considered outside the community.  They quickly take offense.  It pushes up against the noise and all that they had come to believe through the fire and brimstone, the voices yelling at them in their own time.

The readings challenge us this week to quiet ourselves from all the noise.  We have the noise coming from the media, the politicians, twitter, and all the rest claiming to be the one.  Yet, over and over they prove to be the false prophets, using that message for their own gain.  When we learn to quiet ourselves and turn off the noise of our time, the voice of God begins to break through, as we consume the Word the Word consumes us.  As with the great prophets, and the Dali Lama, we’re moved with compassion, literally moved with passion to do something, to act, to do what is right in the face of injustice, suffering, and hurt.  Otherwise, we continue to buy into what is being sold, leading us further astray, more divided, and hard of heart.  We pray for that quiet in our own lives and the reawakening of the prophetic voice within us, moving us to radical compassion.

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Turbulent Truth

I Kings 19: 9a, 11-13a; Romans 9: 1-5; Matthew 14: 22-33

If there is one thing we know about Matthew’s community and the community in which he writes it’s that they faced grave persecution.  It may have been worst for them more than anyone and so with persecution comes great fear as these outside influences put pressure on this community and on the followers of the Christ. We’ve unfortunately even made persecution into something pithy as abiding by rules and teaching but for them it was a fear of their own lives and this constant chaos and turbulence. You know, long before there was anything that we call ISIS or even hate groups we are familiar with in our own society, as well as gangs here in the city, there was the Roman authority and the religious zealots of the time of Jesus.  There was nothing merciful about them and they took out anyone that they perceived as a threat to their power.  Just before this gospel today of Peter walking on the water and the feeding of the crowd, John the Baptist is beheaded.  It’s one of the most heart-breaking stories in the gospels and all done out of fear and insecurity of those in power towards the ones who had the true power, the followers who had found freedom in Christ.

This is the context and the reality of Matthew’s community and so all that we hear, including this little snippet today, is somehow a message of hope to that community not to give up and to persevere in the storm.  So he gives us this image of the disciples being sent out onto the Sea of Galilee in the darkest part of the night, by themselves, and now in the midst of a storm.  Remember, this is not some boat that we’d see down in Harbor.  This is a piecemeal that they’d be familiar with and for Matthew, that boat was symbolic of his own community and what they are facing, the constant onslaught of storminess and turbulence from these institutions to somehow conform to them, to give into the fear and to give up the freedom as followers of the Christ.  It’s not just happening on the sea but is happening within them.  Of course, the message of Matthew is not to give up but to keep growing into that freedom and test the waters as Peter does.  But too much can lead to drowning.  Peter gains a little confidence walking on the water and in doing so quickly falls.  Matthew reminds them that they must not only fall on each other for support in these times but first and foremost to trust in the Lord.  Matthew is aware that all this noise from the outside and all the pressure that the community finds itself facing leads to blocking out that voice of the Lord, the quiet whisper deep within.  In that moment of chaos, Peter cries out and the Lord reaches out.  There’s hope in the midst of the violence of their lives and ours in this city as well.

As much as Peter began to drown, Paul finds himself in anguish for similar reasons or at least for what he is witnessing in the Roman community.  He describes himself in today’s reading as someone in anguish.  He has a deep love for this community and now sees the lack of belief and trust in the Lord.  They are giving into the ways of the world as a community and are giving into that fear and that pressure to conform to the ways of the status quo.  Paul often anguishes over being misunderstood by these communities.  He models for them what it means to live into that freedom of living in Christ.  It is what he is bearing witness and it so often seems to go on deaf ears.  Of course, the more he grows into will also lead to his own impending death as a prophetic voice and follower of the Christ.  Paul reminds the community not to give into the fear.  The fear seems to lull us to sleep, leading us to believe that we’re helpless and that there is nothing we can do.  That’s what the Roman authority and the religious zealots thrive on.  We may never change them nor the systems, but that can’t stop us from weathering the storm and not giving into the fear.  Sure, we may be different, but like Paul, we then stand as a witness to true freedom in Christ.

But we still have one more story today and that’s in today’s first reading from First Kings and the prophet Elijah.  We found Peter sinking, Paul in anguish, and now Elijah hiding in fear.  Elijah finds himself on the run.  His life is being threatened by Queen Jezebel after the slaying of the false prophets and now he’s beside himself.  Not only does he think he can hide from her he also tries to run from God and this prophetic call that has been given to him.  Much will also be demanded of him to remain true to himself and the eternal in the midst of much turbulence and violence, including violence against his own life.  But in the process of hiding, the great mount Horeb provides the space for perspective and context of it all.   Like Peter, when he finally begins to surrender his own fear and control, space opens within where he can once again hear the whispering voice of God speaking, assuring him of that presence in the midst of all this exterior noise.  He finds within himself, the eternal, to now go and confront and no longer fear the loss of his own life.

We aren’t much different than any of them in today’s stories.  We are often confronted with a barrage of noise that leads to continuous upheaval in our live, deeper fear of the unknown, and even in our own neighborhood, more violence.  I’ve had out on our front sign for more than a month now that in violence we forget who we are.  We not only forget who we are but we forget whose we are.  As I said, fear has a way of lulling us to sleep and into this deep amnesia.  We begin to believe that we do it on our own and before you know it the absence of mystery and this God becomes more evident.  We too easily give into this fear but as Matthew reminded his community, they are something more than that fear.  They have found that interior freedom needed to no longer be bound by the threat of the Roman authority and religious zealots.  In that sense, they will always be a threat and violence will continue to ensue.  As disciples and followers of the Christ, we are called to be that more and to not forget not only who we truly are but whose we are in Christ.  The call to conversion is for all of us, not to give into the helplessness and powerlessness in the midst of fear and violence, but to step up and be the voice not of fear but rather of love.

 

Penetrating Silence

I Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Matt 13: 44-52

The first reading, from First Kings is one that I’m quite familiar.  It’s the reading we use each year at the celebration marking the end of the Pinkard Scholars at the seminary.  There’s a lot to like about it.  Solomon finds himself, like many others in Scripture, in a position he’s not sure he’s capable of fulfilling, despite the call from God.  He’s also free to ask for anything to help him become the leader that he’s being called to at this point.  It’s almost like asking for a wish, and yet, despite all of it, Solomon asks not for what he wants but what he feels he needs in that moment in this momentous call from God.  Solomon asks for an understanding heart.

It appears that even God is taken back by the request, assuming he’d ask for a long life, riches, the life of his enemies.  Anything; and yet, he asks for a heart that understands.  Even in the request, this prayer of Solomon, shows the depth of his wisdom and understanding, a deep penetrating silence, that is already there and somehow, in the midst of the unknown, God is going to take it and use him as an instrument of that wisdom and understanding.

It’s a great reading to reflect upon in our own lives as to what the treasure, the pearl of great price, in which we’d ask of God at this moment.  Not this is not to say that our prayers are futile in some ways, but in my experience, we tend to tell God what we want, as if somehow God is the dispensary of wishes.  We know exactly the way things are supposed to be or should be and we want it that way and so that’s what we ask.  However, that’s not a treasure, nor a pearl of great price, nor the wisdom that Solomon exemplifies.  Rather, it’s so often the God we think we want rather than the God that is trying to reveal in the penetrating silence of our hearts, a deeper mystery, to be able to let go and surrender to the mystery and allow the prayer to fall within.

If there is one thing I have learned up in the mountains of Acadia this week it’s just how much noise we have in our lives.  First, with the noise that I create for myself in the busyness of life but also all the noise that surrounds us and in so many ways violates that deep penetrating silence of our hearts, to the point that we no longer know what it is that we need when God asks and gradually get swallowed up in life, unable to breathe, unable to fall into the mystery in which God is inviting each of us.

More often than not, in my experience, people have no idea what they’d really ask God for.  Sure, there are the standard prayers of praying for everyone else, for the world, and so on, but to understand and touch the deepest desire of our own heart is a whole other story.  One, we often feel unworthy to even say it or even because we already know deep down that if I do ask as Solomon does, it may just happen and something more may be demanded of me, just as it was for him.  So I hold back that desire out of fear, unworthiness, as even he thinks because of his age, and I choose to live with a constant restlessness until I can finally rest in that deep penetrating silence in my heart as Solomon does, realizing that the prayer has already begun to bear fruit in the simple act of naming the desire from deep in my heart.

Solomon is one of the key wisdom figures in Scripture and has much to teach us in our own prayer and in the barrage of noise in our own lives that often prevents us, knowingly or unknowingly, from moving to that place of deep penetrating silence in our own hearts that knows our truest desire, maybe an understanding heart as it was for Solomon.  His invitation and mirror to all of us is, that despite our own fear, our anxiety, our own feeling of unworthiness, can we step away from the noise of our lives long enough to move to that deeper place, that ocean of silence that often reveals what we truly desire and know that we have nothing to fear all at the same time.  In the end, did the disciples really understand what Jesus was trying to convey.  Probably not, but somehow it at least spoke to them on that deeper level, stirring something within them and preparing them for that descent in their own lives, in the face of the cross, to that deep, penetrating silence revealing their deepest desires and the heart open to understanding the mystery of God.