Reflection for Sunday – February 7, 2016
Isaiah’s vision of God’s splendor comes with a stunning awareness of his own and his people’s failings followed by such an experience of forgiveness and love that he immediately gives his life over to God. He is driven to bring the Israelites back to their ever-faithful God. In forgetting their own faithfulness to the covenant they have become petty and self-centered. They’ve forgotten to love and care for the poor and oppressed in their midst—especially the most vulnerable, the widows, orphans and foreigners.
Then there’s Paul, the deeply religious zealot who ruthlessly defends his faith against the blaspheming followers of the crucified Jesus. What good could God find in one so certain of his own righteousness? But all he needs is a vision that knocks him off his horse to forever turn his life around. Paul, ever aware of his own imperfection and God’s faithfulness, becomes the prophet who makes the new church possible.
Peter, a hard-working fisherman, is focused on his livelihood, not on the preacher drawing crowds to the shore. But Jesus sees beyond his roughness and weakness—this is after all, the friend who would deny knowing him in his time of trouble—and invites first his assistance and then everything. Peter gives it all up and follows Jesus.
Two visions and a personal encounter. Where does that leave us who have to struggle through life with all its temptations receiving only hints and fleeting glimpses of God present among us? Definitely not off the hook. We are all called to both goodness and prophecy by our baptism. Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, neither our busyness nor our sinfulness is an acceptable excuse for forgetting who we are, beloved children of God.
God sends prophets to open our eyes to the injustices that have become so much a part of the wallpaper of our lives that we fail to become outraged. Martin Luther King awakened us to the horror of legal segregation and discrimination in the United States. Oscar Romero laid bare the plight of the powerless and persecuted poor in El Salvador and throughout Latin America as well as our own nation’s complicity. Caesar Chavez reminded us that farmworkers are human beings too and deserve to be treated as such. And now Pope Francis—who doesn’t love him?
Pope Francis is calling us to wake up, to shake off our sense of First-World entitlement, to encounter the poor so that we can no longer refuse to care about their well-being. He’s calling us to wake up to the damage our careless use of resources is doing to the earth. When our worlds are small it’s possible to imagine that somehow we can wall ourselves off from the world’s pain and just hold on to what we have. But poverty and all the violence and suffering that accompany it can’t be walled off in a city center or an African nation or across the border in Mexico. If it doesn’t challenge us by its pure human suffering, it will challenge us through the uneducated, traumatized citizens we’ve left behind, by the refugees demanding safety throughout the world and by the ongoing struggle to limit the flow of migrant people into our country. The onslaught of violent weather extremes already contributing to pain of the poorest will inevitably change our own lives if we don’t respond soon.
Pope Francis reminds us that God loves us—that’s good. But he also reminds us that God loves everyone and that’s challenging. It demands something of us. It demands that we stand up for poor mothers and fathers who deserve to go off to work knowing that their child is cared for safely and lovingly. It demands that we reduce our use of the world’s resources so that there’s something left for the rest of the world and those who come after us. It demands that we love and treat respectfully all those others, beloved by God, who share this earth. It demands that we respond, “Send me!”