I had the opportunity to preach (or offer a reflection if you prefer) this week at my church. As always I felt privileged to do so. This week’s gospel and my reflections on it have been poignant for me because I am very aware that it is the love and generosity of others that puts me back together when I am broken, weak or lost. The liturgy I was privileged to lead today would also have fallen apart without the loving support of a whole lot of people who know more than me and particularly of my youngest son who came back from his “holiday” at his dad’s house just to help me do the liturgy 🙂
For the sake of brevity I am going to pass over two of the readings and dive right into this radical and stirring gospel. Jesus here is teaching us something about relationships, is calling us to a courageous way of relating that involves our trust and the autonomy of the other. If we accept what Jesus is showing and telling us here, it could revolutionise both the structure and working of the church and our personal lives.
Jesus, quite beautifully begins by giving us a glimpse into his own life with God. There is a relationship here that is not about control and obedience but such implicit trust that whatever Jesus does glorifies God and God responds immediately by glorifying Jesus in Godself. We recognise this complete alignment of interests when we refer to Jesus as the “Word” of God. Jesus’ doings and very being constantly express God’s inner thoughts and agenda. Neither seeks to control the other, neither is required to obey, simply the good of one is identical with the good of the other.
We don’t quite achieve this in our relationships with others. We do not have perfect understanding and are reluctant to trust. Sometimes the closer we are to a person, an institution an idea or a way of life the more we are tempted to take ownership over it, to exercise control, to see deem others as inferior in understanding, morals or ability as a way of justifying our own control. At the same time, and particularly for women who get a lot of pressure to consider themselves inferior, there is the opposite temptation to shirk responsibility by clinging to the wisdom, ability or authority of another.
It could be tempting here to see the perfection of union between God and Jesus and decide that this is Ok for them because they are perfect and are always right. But we are not always right and neither are our fellow humans. And yet Jesus moves from this ideal and perfect relationship to turn to us, to flawed and clinging humanity and offer us too that trust and that freedom to breathe and grow.
“Little children” Jesus acknowledges our feelings of vulnerability and ignorance. We face big mysteries like our own mortality, like infinity, like the complex, rich, diverse life of our planet. We try to sort out the important from the trivial but our perspective changes even as individuals. How do we reconcile what we think we know with what others seem to believe? Jesus admits we will feel alone with this, but then Jesus himself will be heard to cry out that God has “abandoned” him.
This is the price of being trusted and treated as an equal. Is it good news? That we cannot stand back and cling to an idea of Jesus doing all the work of salvation and struggle that we are called to. We are invited into an independence of thought an action, to seek to glorify God through our choices in love not in mere obedience. We are called to be so committed to the reign of God, that all of God’s agendas of justice are what glorify us too.
How reckless of Jesus to first pour everything out for us and then trust us with the precious seeds of a better world. Human history is full of our failures as church and society to do this work, to relate in this way. My own personal history mirrors this constant failure in a microcosm. I would expect Jesus to know better than to keep trusting me, but Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, I want you to love one another” not recalling the reckless and trusting love but showing it as a model for how I ought to be.
Those times that we get this right, that we love each other with the reckless and undemanding love of God then we are a powerful sign of God’s reality. The world sees that our discipleship has meaning when we do not turn our backs on abuse victims, or asylum seekers, or the elderly or struggling families. The world sees that we believe in something greater, when we stop trying to control or narrow others and instead work to understand, affirm and liberate all into the good news and justice of God.
Looking around, I see people here who live this reality, and I acknowledge that I have been drawn to Christ and back to Christ repeatedly not by constricting traditions and heavy-handed language about “Lord, Lord” but by the way individuals and families reach out to each other or reach out to me. We are all called to follow the radical call to trust, to liberate and to love. We are fortunate to have each other as examples of how powerfully a kind word or deed can preach hope and life. Let us take up the challenge to glorify God by how we love each other. Let us always seek to broaden our circles of influence, not with control but with trust and support of each other’s discipleship and a determination to bring love to others.
I now invite you to reflect on any aspect of the readings that speaks powerfully to you, and when you turn to speak to the people sitting near you to sense in their loving discipleship the presence of GOD.