First Sunday of Lent – Renouncing Violence, Defeating Violence
In Jewish mythology the Exodus from Egypt catapulted into freedom a people who had been oppressed and enslaved. According to the legend, it was into the desert that Moses had led a group of slaves. Oppressed and bewildered, terrified and doubting, but by the end of the story of their journey through the wilderness, they were a nation, the people of Israel. The people of God. In the time of Jesus brutality and dictatorship was once again oppressing the people.
The choice before Jesus was to submit or answer violence with violence – he chose neither, and defined a new and ultimately victorious and enduring path. In the suffering of the Ukrainian people, their courage and endurance, we see some of that ancient history being replayed – the oppressor seeking to strip a population of their identity but only achieving the opposite – the rise, the affirming, the founding of a people – a nation.
By chapter 17 of Luke’s gospel, we are now approaching the end of what is called the journey narrative. Jesus’s disciples will soon welcome him into Jerusalem, for some brief moments of triumph, and so it is fitting that the main focus of his teaching now moves to them. By now his audience is well primed to favour the ‘poor’ over those of riches and privilege. But, just because you might be considered among the more blessed poor, Jesus warns them, don’t think for a moment that you are exempt from responsibility and judgement. Even in the Kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. How might that warning apply to us in our own time and very different circumstances?
The idea of the ‘gated community’ has grown enormously in recent years. They are a symptom of societies that are so divided, so unequal, with such a small proportion of those who might be called well off and a vast number of those living in poverty, where such communities fear that at any moment the dreadful reality of their society could come crashing into their lives and homes. Gated communities are an attempt to deny the truth, to create a bubble of existence, that shuts its ears and eyes to the pain and suffering of society, in which one is actually involved and of which one might be also a cause. In today’s gospel reading Jesus confronts the timeless reality of injustice and indifference.
In Amos, the guilty are directly addressed – “…. you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land.”
And as he continues to travel towards Jerusalem, preaching as he goes, Jesus tells those with him just what it means to be a ‘disciple’.
Many of those with him would be the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, so a story about a rich man, moreover the most hated kind of all, the absentee landlord, would go down well. The master directs the cruel policy, the manager, the steward enacts it.
A tragic story not unknown in this land too.
And Jesus goes on to speak of money, how in their case, but also how for us, our attitudes to money can reveal who we are.