Thought for the week - 10 September 2023
People, or at least the media, seem to like individuals – people who stick out. Maybe the media like them because, with a little manipulation, they can fall from grace in a quite newsworthy fashion, justifying the relentless hounding they endure as being ‘in the public interest’. Even politicians now seem to go the same way, as the current media circus around Donald Trump shows. In fact, he is by no means the only world leader with a string of allegations of wrongdoing to his name – I know I cheered when Lula was elected President of Brazil this year, not because he’s bene in prison for corruption, but because he was by a long way the best of the two choices. But we kind of like individuals who make their own way and swim against the tide, no matter how they propel themselves – as our election of Boris Johnson showed us. On the other hand, we can be a little fearful of people like that, which is probably how they end up being in charge, because nobody quite wants to challenge them. Powerful people have to undertake tokenistic gestures to show how they care for others less fortunate than they are, yet usually live in fortified mansions that would be unyielding to a hungry person outside the door seeking help. But staged displays of largesse help us to believe that maybe they do care for the community around themselves, and in the case of politicians, they do actually owe their position to those who voted them in – they are part of many networks who have decided to back them, believing that they are the best option so if they deny that they are part of society, and try to live as if they aren’t, they will achieve some things, hurt many people, and will in fact be living a lie.
Christ is straightforward about how we are to live in reference to one another – we are to live in community, because humanity is made in the image of God, which is a community in the Trinity which brings into itself those who are baptised and keep the covenant to ‘love one another’ – and our community is to be marked by love, even when, as the Gospel today alludes to, things sometimes go wrong and we need to call each other to account in order to properly care for each other. Ezekiel knew this and he makes it clear in the first reading when he says he has to warn people about their behaviour;
‘’ When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.’’
Ezekiel says that, even though the evil doer bears complete responsibility for what they have done, he himself still bears a responsibility to tell them that they have done something wrong, and to call them to repentance and back to their community. He does this not because he likes being a judgemental busybody, but because he follows the word of God and cares for his community, even for the members who have gone seriously astray, as the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of the one stray. The community has to love itself into being strong – in the same way, when we enter a church, if we see factions or hatred or poor behaviour, we know that community is failing, and failing through a lack of love strong enough to address their failings – in other words, they don’t care enough to make it right, just enough to be themselves and not to be a Christian community.
I am reminded of a story of an 18/19th century Hassidic rabbi. Rabbi Yitzhak saw a fellow Jew smoking on the sabbath, something forbidden. The rabbi asked the Jew whether he had forgotten what day it was. The response was, “No,” he knew what day it was. The rabbi then asked whether he had forgotten that smoking was forbidden on the sabbath. The response was again, “No,” he knew it was forbidden. The rabbi then asked that surely his mind was elsewhere when he lit the cigarette, but he received the reply that he knew exactly what he was doing. Rabbi Yitzhak, we are told, ‘turned his eyes upwards to heaven and said, “Sovereign of the universe, who is like Your people Israel? I give this man every chance, and still, he cannot tell a lie!”’ Rabbi Yitzhak, concerned by the waywardness of one of his own could find something good in his neighbour, some common ground to keep him close, even though his behaviour presumably offended and upset him.
The very meaning of our life is that we belong to a community, to many communities in fact, but the one that we base our hope, our salvation and our future on is the community of God, of the Church and we need this community like we need the air we breathe, because the eucharistic community is exactly that – our food of life, and our greatest need. This meal we come to share is one of the self-giving love of Christ, the love of the Father in allowing His Son to die for us, and the continual self-giving of the Spirit in giving life to the church. So it is that we do not manipulate each other, or set ourselves above each other, but support each other and when things go wrong, to challenge each other because above our own life and our own likes and dislikes, we value the life of the world to come which is most fully expressed in our Church community. In loving each other, we come to love our neighbour, and in loving our neighbour, we come to love God and He comes to us, to draw us back to the Kingdom.