13th Sunday of the Year Reflection
We cling to the good old days; our yesterday’s when we were young and strong, and all our troubles seem so far away. We experience that warm glow of security as we recall and relive the past. We ritualise these days of the past in our photo albums, memory walls, and our traditions handed on from generation to generation.
As time moves on, we often forget the roots of these traditions. In our own African tradition, the burial of the skins and bedding of the deceased was practiced so that any possible infections and diseases would not be spread. Today we go out and buy expensive new blankets to bury with our loved ones; the roots have been forgotten but the stylised tradition continues.
Our human consciousness is evolving and as this awareness increases, we leave behind the things that yesterday appeared to us foundational for our security and well-being. Animal sacrifice continues as trophy hunting of today but is ever declining as we look on in horror and social media decries this pastime of our yesterdays. Human sacrifice continues as human trafficking, discrimination, and on the financial altar of productivity and profit. But this human sacrifice also has come under scrutiny as our waking awareness grows.
The story of Holy Scripture enlightens our path on our journey towards becoming fully human. This is the story of our moving beyond the terrors of the night and the uncertainty of our existence. From ancient Japan, the Aztecs, the Greeks, the Romans, including the Israelites, and many emerging civilizations, human sacrifice was made to pacify the angry gods and to bring good fortune and order to society.
God stops the hand of Abraham who would offer his son Isaac to indicate that development of human sacrifice being replaced by animal sacrifice. As Jesus empties the temple of animals destined for sacrifice in the temple of Jerusalem, he points to the end of animal sacrifice as he, the Lamb of God, replaces for all time the sacrifices of animals and all our human scapegoats.
All our readings of this 13th Sunday of the year, tell the story of people fearful to move beyond the security of the past and traditions. Elisha who leaves the plough that represents food security behind in order to follow Elijah. St Paul calls on the Galatians to allow themselves to be led by the Spirit so that the Law may be fully fulfilled and replaced by our love of each other. This is a fearful call to move beyond the security of those neat boxes containing all the dogmas and doctrines that keep us secure to move towards that vulnerability of being loved and the even greater vulnerability of loving.
The Samaritans misunderstand the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem and so come to reject Jesus whom they had previously welcomed. The Samaritans believe that, since more than 3600 years ago, they came to live on Mount Gerizim because Moses, in his tenth commandment, ordered them to protect it as a sacred mountain and worship on it by making pilgrimages to it three times a year. Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem. How can Jerusalem be greater than their place of worship on Gerizim? It is for this tradition that they turn their faces away from the Lord of life, the “I am before Moses was”.
Jesus goes even further in questioning our adherence to past doctrines, laws, and traditions over the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God. This is the proclamation of the New Commandment of Love that takes absolute priority over all of these doctrines, laws, and traditions. The fifth commandment demands the honouring of our fathers and mothers. The ritual cleansing and burial were integral to this honour bestowed on our parents.
A follower of Jesus wants priority to first bury his father, but Jesus rejects this delay due to adherence to the Law: “let the dead bury the dead”. Inwardly we also feel the horror and consternation of Jesus followers. This horror and consternation become the inventor of clever interpretation and manipulation so that we can get back to our comforting tradition. This is, however, a comfort that leads us into indifference towards developing and growing.
Evil, hatred, and indifference will always annihilate itself as it turns inwards to devour itself. Evil hatred and indifference have no creative power except that which it appropriates from the creative and transformative power of Love. God is love as God is also Creator and this is the moving force of all creation. This is the Good News to be proclaimed to all creation throughout the world. This is the Good News that in every place and in every time replaces the punitive substitution atonement of blood sacrifice.
The interpretation of this new Commandment and the proclamation of the good news must be revisited in the light of Jesus message. We are being called to let go of our clever interpretation and manipulation of the gospel that seeks to dominate and exclude. We have airbrushed femininity out of divinity and excluded the heart of a mother, the blood of Mary that beats within the heart of Jesus; the heart that also beats within the Trinity.
The time of this rebirth is with us now. Pope Francis himself has asserted that the tradition of the global church over the centuries is not a container for preserving objects but is instead the roots to be drawn on for future growth. He calls us out of our comfort of “safeguarding the Ashes of the past”, those who have a nostalgia for returning always to these ashes. Tradition is the guarantee of the future that gives us nutrition to grow:
“Tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the container of the ashes… Tradition is like roots [of a tree], which give us nutrition to grow,” he explained. “You will not become like the roots. You will flower, grow, give fruit, and the seeds become roots for other people. The tradition of the church is always in movement,” he said. “The tradition does not safeguard the ashes.”
As we look to the future with new hope, let us draw on the strength and the courage of Mary Magdalene, first witness of the resurrection and Apostle to the Apostles, the beloved disciple who stands at the foot of the cross and who has so much to teach us about the sacrament of conscious Love at the heart of the gospel mystery.