Posts Tagged ‘submission’

Fighting is not the solution

September 9, 2017

Pentecost 14 – 2017

Matthew 18:10-20

Marian Free

In the name of God who, through Jesus shows us a way to confront wrongdoing without causing embarrassment or shame. Amen.

I would not be surprised to discover that more than a few of us have been made quite anxious not only by North Korea’s testing of a hydrogen bomb but also in relation to the world’s response to that test. An escalation of threats on one side has led to an escalation of activity on the other and so it goes on – a never-ending cycle in which each side tries to cow the other. It is difficult to see how the situation can end well. North Korea fires a bomb, the United States and others urge more punitive sanctions. North Korea threatens to bomb the United States, the United States threatens a massive military response and so on. Neither party wants to back down. Backing down would be a source of embarrassment and would be seen as a sign of weakness[1].

A willingness not to use force to solve a conflict and not put down the other party not only leads to a different outcome, but provides a solution in which neither party is made to look weak or is exposed to embarrassment or shame. On Friday, Richard Filder interviewed Jonesy – a single mother, truck-driver, trainer and company director. Heather Jones drives enormous B-double, or B-triple trucks in Western Australia. A few years ago, Jonesy was called in to mediate in a situation that looked as though it was going to get out of hand. A woman from Ballina had taken it on herself to expose truck drivers whom, she had concluded were all dangerous and irresponsible drivers. “Bothersome Belinda” as she became known, set up a website asking for people to dob in a truck driver. Her campaign caused distress among all the truck drivers who drove responsibly and carefully and who often put their own lives at risk to avoid accidents. Jonesy was called in by her fellow truckies to see if she could help – single mother to single mother.

At the first meeting, Belinda’s body language said it all. Her views were fixed: truckies were the enemy and she was not ready to give an inch. Jonesy was not deterred. Over a number of meetings she continued to reach out to Belinda until the point that they became good friends. The eventual outcome was that the offending website was taken down and, to Jonesy’s surprise, Belinda got her truck license and came to work for her.

Two quite different ways of dealing with offense and two quite different results!

In a culture governed by notions of honour and shame and in which aggression and tit for tat was a way of life, Jesus showed that there was another way.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the stunning claim that: “Blessed are the peacemakers,” and “Blessed are the meek”. He not only counselled against aggression, he also gave practical examples of ways in which his listeners could end disputes without exposing the other person or oneself to shame or dishonour. He said: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

This is a theme that runs throughout Matthew’s gospel. Jesus refused to meet violence with violence, he refused to grandstand, to promote himself at the expense of others, and finally he submitted to violence and death rather than respond to hostility with aggression.

In today’s gospel Jesus provides a practical example of how conflict or sin within the Christian community might be dealt with without exposing the offender to embarrassment and without creating a situation that would lead to an escalation of the problem. Jesus does not appear to think that conflict is something to be avoided at all costs. It will occur in the Christian community as in any other. When it does, the matter should be addressed, but it should be addressed in a way that does not expose the offender or cause the offender to lose honour in the sight of the community. Jesus suggests three strategies that can be used if tensions arise, or if someone hurts someone else or behaves in a way that is contrary to the values of the community.

In the first instance the one who is sinned against is to speak quietly to the offender – thus causing no embarrassment. Only if this doesn’t work are others to be involved. The second stage involves witnesses, which suggests that it is more of a legal process. Again, the problem is dealt with privately so that the offender does not lose honour. Only as a last resort is the offender brought before the entire community. If the offender still refuses to acknowledge his or her fault, they have demonstrated that they do not really belong and, at least in the short-term, must be designated as an outsider – in the same class as a tax-collector or a Gentile.

I am not naïve. History has demonstrated that sometimes the only way to confront and to stop evil behaviour has been to react with force. What Jesus is suggesting is that this should not be a way of life. Confrontation and violence should never be the starting point, but rather dialogue and an attempt at mutual understanding. Only when these fail should we begin to seek out other means of resolving the tension.

Within the Christian community relationships are likely to be tested, people are going to rub up against each other in the church as in other situation and people are going to fail to live up to everyone’s expectations. What is important, is not that conflict is avoided, but that when it does occur it is dealt with in such a way as to avoid exposing people to embarrassment and shame and that it follows an orderly process to try to resolve the issue and, as we shall see as the chapter progresses, the Christian community should be more ready than other communities to forgive – not once but over and over and over again.

[1] To be fair, imposing sanctions has been used as a way of avoiding conflict and war, and it may be difficult to have conversations with the leadership of North Korea.

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One with God or with each other?

May 27, 2017

Easter 7 – 2017

John 17:1-11

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who calls us into union with God, with Jesus our Saviour and with each other. Amen.

In the wrong hands the Bible – indeed any religious texts – can be dangerous. This is blatantly obvious at present as we live with the consequences of Islamic extremism. No faith is exempt from the misinterpretation or misuse of its holy texts. We have to acknowledge that over the centuries even Christian texts have been used in ways that are punitive and even abusive. Passages from the bible have at times been used to limit and oppress rather than to liberate and make whole. Witness for example, the centuries during which it was believed that the inequitable distribution of wealth was God’s design. The poor were poor because that was how God ordered the world – not because kings and nobles taxed them beyond their means. For centuries it was taught and believed (at least by some) that the bible sanctioned violence against women and that women who were beaten by their husbands should not only endure such violence, but that they should also forgive the perpetrator thereby being forced to collude in their abuse.

In the case of today’s gospel, the final half sentence: “That they may be one as we are one” was used as a weapon in the debate about the ordination of women. Those who supported such a move were accused of being divisive and of wanting to destroy the church. Indeed the insinuation was that in seeking change they were going against the express will of Jesus in John 17:11. It was both a powerful and a manipulative strategy, designed to unsettle those who supported the ordination of women, to appealing to their core beliefs and making them feel guilty for daring to suggest change. (Interestingly, the opponents of the ordination of women did not believe that by refusing to accept change it might have been they not the others who were causing division.)

John 17:11 has been used to support unity within the church and between the churches and a quick look at the website textthisweek suggests that this is the most common interpretation of this verse and the most common theme of sermons on this passage. However, if we examine the verse in its immediate context and in the context of the gospel as a whole, we will recognise that the prayer is slanted somewhat differently.

As we saw a number of weeks ago, a key theme of the Johannine gospel is that of the unity of the Father and the Son. Over and over again, the Johannine Jesus states that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. The union between Jesus and God is such that to know one is to know the other. Now we learn that Jesus is sharing with the disciples the union that exists between himself and God. Jesus prays that the lives of the disciples will be indistinguishable from that of the Father and the Son.

Chapter 17 is a part of Jesus’ farewell speech in which he prepares the disciples for his departure and for life without him. After announcing that he is going away, Jesus encourages the disciples to live in him (as branches attached to a vine) and he promises to send them the Advocate – the Spirit of Truth. Now he prays – for himself and for them – beginning with an appeal to God that his role may be brought to completion. In John’s gospel the cross is not something to be avoided but to be embraced. It is on the cross that Jesus will be glorified, because it is here that his complete submission to God will be demonstrated, it here that he will be lifted up and from here that he will be able to hand over his spirit to his followers.

Death is merely the fulfillment of his mission: “Glorify me,” Jesus prays “with the glory that I had before the world existed”. As we learn in the very first verse of this gospel, Jesus and the Father have been united since before time began. Jesus continues by praying for the disciples. He prays that they union that he shares with God will not be shared with those who believe in him.

That Jesus is praying that the disciples will be one with himself (and therefore with God) is confirmed if we read to the end of the prayer. In verses 21-23 Jesus prays again: “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” The prayer concludes: “so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” If the disciples are united to God in the same way that Jesus is united to God then, God will be known through them as God was made known through Jesus.

At the end of the Farewell Speech, Jesus commissions the disciples to continue his work in the world. As God sent Jesus into the world, so now Jesus sends the disciples. As Jesus revealed the Father, so now the disciples have the responsibility of revealing both the Father and the Son. They cannot do this if they insist on asserting their individuality and on going their own way. The only way that the disciples can achieve union with God is if, like Jesus, they hand themselves over entirely to God and submit themselves completely to God’s will. By subsuming their own needs and individuality into the Godhead, they will allow God to be made known through them. Their union with God will in turn lead to unity with one another.

It’s all a matter of what we take as our starting place. If we begin by believing that God is insisting that we live in complete unity, we can end up chasing the wrong goal – focusing on ending our internal divisions rather than focusing on our union with God. If however we make it our primary goal to seek union with God, the end result will union with one another – in our Parishes, in our Dioceses and with the members of other churches.

 

Making a difference in the world

December 20, 2014

Advent 4 – 2014
Luke 1:26-36
Marian Free

In the name of Jesus who surrendered himself completely and in so doing became completely God. Amen.

What a year this has been. What a week! This week alone two people have lost their lives in a hostage situation in Sydney, 140 students and teachers have been killed in an attack on a school in Pakistan, eight children have been stabbed to death by their mother in Cairns, and (hidden away in a small paragraph of today’s paper) we learn that another 180 women and children have been kidnapped by Boko Haran in Nigeria. In the face of all this horror and violence it is easy to overlook the devastating news that the UN has run out of funds and that hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled the violence in Syria and Iraq can no longer expect food handouts and so may have escaped the war only to face starvation. It might also have escaped our attention that currently in the Central African Republic something like 10,000 children – some as young as eight – have been recruited as soldiers and force to fight in a war they almost certainly do not understand.

And that is just this week and only the news items that particularly grabbed my attention. It is only the tip of the iceberg in a world that seems to be falling apart at the seams.

The week just gone is exactly the sort of week that might make a person ask “where is God in all this” and “why doesn’t God do something to stop the violence and destruction?” The reason is simple – God can’t intervene. At least God cannot intervene decisively and enduringly without stooping to our level and behaving just like us. If God were to use violence to put an end to violence either the world itself would be destroyed or the world would follow God’s example and the cycle of violence would continue. If instead God tried to impose God’s will, to dominate and subjugate the aggressors would resist God’s control and take out their frustration on others the situation might become worse rather than better.

So while God might despair at the state of the world today, God chooses not to intervene. If God does intervene God does so in a completely novel and unexpected way – without resorting to violence or domination. God knows that forcing us to do God’s will is not nearly as effective as working with us to achieve the same end. For this reason God refuses to coerce us, to bend us to his purpose or to subjugate us to God’s authority. Instead God waits. God waits until we are ready, until we recognise and are open to God’s greater wisdom and willingly submit ourselves to God’s plan for us and for the world. For it is only when individuals acknowledge God and allow God to direct their lives that they enable God to be effective in achieving God’s purpose. It is only when we relinquish our pride, our arrogance and our selfish ambitions that God is able to work in and through us to make real God’s hopes for all humankind.

And so we come at last to today’s gospel and the extraordinary story of an ordinary young woman whose selfless humility made a place for God in her life and therefore for God in the world. In order to respond to God, Mary put aside her fears, her ambitions, her desire for respectability and her need to be in control of her own life. Mary was less concerned with what was good for her, and more concerned about the greater good, less worried about her own future, and more worried about the future of humankind. Mary let go and gave herself and her life completely into God’s hands.

It was Mary’s willingness to submit to God that provided God with the opportunity to intervene in the world. It was Mary’s “yes” that led to Christ’s birth and consequently to the redemption of all humankind.

If then the world has not been redeemed, we need not look to God but to ourselves. While we continue to hold on to our own hopes and dreams, while we persist in trying to prove ourselves by competing with and striving over and against others, while we rely on our own resources to provide security for the present and the future, we effectively diminish God’s presence in the world while at the same time reinforcing our own.

Paradoxically, it was Mary’s submission, her giving up of her self, that not only allowed God to be brought to birth in the world, but made her most truly the person God created her to be. In giving up everything, Mary gained more than she could have ever imagined, by accepting ignominy, Mary gained the sort of fame which few have achieved and few can even imagine.

Mary is told: “Nothing is impossible with God.” Nothing is impossible for God, but in order for God to make a difference in this broken world, God needs our cooperation, our willingness to let go of ambition and self interest, our preparedness to relinquish our need for control and give ourselves completely to God’s will. There are few who are prepared to give themselves so completely and lose themselves so thoroughly and as a result the world continues its trajectory towards self-destruction.

God needs our ‘yes’ to join that of Mary’s so that in every age and every place, ordinary men and women will continue to bring Christ to birth. Our “yes to God might not transform the world, but it might change our small corner for the better.


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