OK so it is homeless week. It’s a week to think about people who don’t have it easy. Let’s not make it a week of congratulating ourselves for a small or moderate amount of tokenistic charity but let’s make it a week for reflecting on the systemic reasons for homelessness. Let’s acknowledge the sin of inequitable ways of being in the world and let’s heed a call to repentance (transformation, revolution). This is the agenda I shamelessly bring to my frienemy the lectionary. Let’s see how that pans out!
Abraham prays to Godde in a way that I really admire in the first reading. You can call it bargaining if you like, I call it advocating. “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? “is a valid question to my mind. Godde is responsive to Abraham in this reading, there is a failure to break out of the kyriearchal model of punishing and using power over. Much as it is tempting to want Godde to act this way toward the unjust (remembering that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitability rather than imposing anachronistic interpretations to do with sexual orientations), much as we sometimes want Godde to be our powerful super-hero that sorts out the bad guys this flies in the face of our experience of our socio-political world.
So, beyond the superficial blind allies, what do we have here? We have Abraham role-modelling for us a gritty and honest relationship with Godde, an ethic of care toward his relatives. Since that time we have had Jesus pushing the boundaries of our kinship, asking us to open up our familial care to “others” (which makes it tragic when Christians feel the need to judge or exclude their own). I seem to hear sarcasm in Abraham’s humility in arguing with “the Lord”. I feel that Godde would appreciate the sassiness of this encounter. Refocusing on the homeless we need to be both this persistent and this audacious in pursuing better outcomes.
One of my fears for my own old age is homelessness. I have not accrued much super and the world is becoming less forgiving of elderly people who are not rich. So being that homeless person in my imagination (the one I hope I never get to experience for real) I read the psalm.
“Though I walk amid distress, you preserve me;
against the anger of my enemies you raise your hand.
Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.”
Do homeless people get to feel this? Can they feel a radical presence? I try to do small acts of solidarity as I walk through town, I try to smile or say “hello” to street people as they are possibly future me (you’d be surprised how many are very well educated). I do succumb to beggars when I am able, it’s a problematic question of what the right thing to do is, but I don’t work hard enough on changing the political scene to feel completely guiltless about other people’s poverty. I try to be the “kindness” in the psalm not the “enemy”.
It frightens me that people can “walk amid distress” and walk and walk mile after mile, year after year with no relief. This applies also to the refugees on Manus. If we are going to discuss homelessness then the way our society ignores, trivialises and victimises Indigenous people and disabled people in particular needs to be mentioned. The number of older women finding themselves homeless is a set of questions we should be demanding answers to. “Distress” in our society is unevenly distributed according to race, class, gender and non-heterosexuality. All these people are the work of Godde’s hands. Godde lovingly created the beloved Indigenous, disabled, queer, poor woman that we discard (or any other). When we forsake the work of Godde’s hands we are deeply insulting Godde.
In the second reading we have all been baptised into the life of Christ. This is not about drawing boundaries around an exclusive community or imposing membership processes (such as human celebrations of particular models of baptism), it is about Godde’s sacramental claiming of us all into a radical dignity and equality, nailing to the cross anything that obstructs us from perfect love. Love flows to us and calls to us, it loves us into being better if we only become aware of it. The first step (if we take a sacramental approach) is not striving to do good deeds or to weed out sin, not to fill in some sort of spiritual KPI.
The first step is becoming aware of the love that Godde has for us…for our world…for people…for non-human creation…for the yearning in us to be love. I am Christian because I believe that even this awareness is transformative, that we will learn to desire lovingness as a basis of our life if we let ourselves be aware, barefoot on the ground of our being (Godde). When we are motivated by desire not duty, we work a lot harder. Trust me this is almost always true 😉 Awareness of Godde builds in us a desire to be infused by Godde’s presence and to do good not as “work” but as a creative and free expression of who we really are. The tragedy of violence and abuse is not only that the victim suffers, it is also that the perpetrator is not being their authentic and free self. Nevertheless, anger is often the appropriate response to abuse. Within myself though, I can try to hear the voice of Godde more strongly than the voices of my detractors. I can try to speak out of the freedom of being absolutely beloved and affirmed to be love.
I am not claiming that I have achieved this, but it’s a direction.
To return to the homeless person, we must be motivated by genuine love and solidarity to make social world’s where people have their material needs met. We must work harder for the good of each other instead of letting suspicion and envy turn us into hoarders of wealth. If we are working hard for love not duty, we will feel less angry if someone else benefits from our work. Sacrament then is a key to social change.
Into the gospel. I hope the focus on sacramentality has adequately prepared us to really pray with Jesus our prayer-coach. There is a lot here and I don’t feel able to cover it all sufficiently. I will drop a link to last time I covered this in case you need more.
Jesus is telling us to shamelessly bring our authentic needs and agendas to Godde. How sad that this example of how to pray has become just a set of words we recite in a hurry a lot of the time instead of an exemplar of how to construct our own. Sorry Jesus, for all the plagiarism. Jesus’ prayer is balanced, there is an acknowledgement and awareness of Godde and Godde’s agendas and a flowing over of Godde’s agendas into our interests as earthlings. “Your kindom come” because we are your kin and everything you do will make us more free, and more real. But Jesus also reminds us to be persistent if we feel we are not getting an authentic answer.
This seems to me to be a two-edged sword in that on the one hand it validates our nagging of Godde as part of right relationship, but what is also implicit here is the idea that when we have the power to grant someone’s need of course as decent human beings we would do so. When we, as decent human beings encounter the homeless, we will open the door and give food and recognition. When we, as decent human beings witness systemic abuses we will speak out and act for what is good. When our government refuses to even attempt to save the only planet we can live upon, we will pester and pester not only Godde but humans. We will demand decency and humanity from those in power, we will never become cynical enough to stop demanding what we need (our bread for tomorrow). We will never become cynical enough to give up on a vision of Godde’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. We will never have our head too much in the clouds to hear the gritty voices of reason on this material earth beloved by a gritty dirty-sandalled Jesus.
In todays world, hope is a necessity we must search and work hard for. We focus on the needs of those who do not have what they need. We take back our power as members (through baptism) of Godde’s kindom. We seek a fairer, more hopeful world, transformed by love.