Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 50:5-9a Ps. 116:1-9 James 2:14-18 Mark 8:27-35
“Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks but as humans do!”
Peter had told Jesus that the disciples believed that he was the Christ. That had led to Jesus speaking about his coming rejection, suffering, death and resurrection. That type of failure didn’t compute for Peter so he had taken Jesus aside to try to straighten him out: failure couldn’t happen to God’s chosen one. With God on his side, he was sure to succeed in leading the nation to its freedom and bringing all peoples to see its glory. That was what brought Peter this blistering response from Jesus.
Of course, “thinking as humans do” is what humans normally do! And assuming that if God is on our side, we will succeed is a very common religious assumption among us humans. But Jesus knew that he was speaking his Truth, the Good News of God’s forgiveness and love, into a hostile social and cultural reality. Already it was clear that the chief priests, elders, and scribes, the religious leaders, were threatened by Jesus’s freedom and his preaching of God’s reign among them. They needed to stop him if their understanding of their faith and their role in it were to survive. Too much was at stake for them.
Jesus realized that the rejection he was experiencing already would most likely result in suffering and death. The prophets had pointed in that direction. After his resurrection, Jesus spent a great deal of time explaining to the disciples all that the scriptures had said concerning him and pointing toward his death and rising – just recall the incident on the road to Emmaus. But the faith of the prophets and his faith knew that God would be faithful through whatever might come, even death, and be there to raise new life through it.
That becomes the heart of Christian faith: God’s love and presence are faithful through everything, even death, and God will raise new life through it. If we want to be companions of Jesus, we too need to be ready to take up whatever cross comes to us as we serve, trusting God to be faithful and raise up new life for us as well.
What does this reflection offer us as we continue our journey into deepening ecological conversion and spirituality in this Season of Creation? Building as we have for the past two weeks on the Dominican pillars of contemplation, study, community, and preaching, where are we drawn?
Over the last several days, creation has pressed upon us a powerful and destructive reality bringing great suffering. Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut have struck with devastating power. The media have presented us with an unrelenting deluge of images of destruction, suffering and death in the Carolinas and in the Philippines and China. This material for our contemplation in this Season of Creation is difficult, painful, destructive, terrifying.
The media commentators trying to explain the power and impact of the storms provided the fruit of extensive meteorological study of nature and its dynamics. They explained how these storms grew more powerful and destructive because they were passing over warmer waters than previously, a legacy of the warming of the planet caused by greenhouse gases. Warmer air also can hold more water, so the rains were more plentiful. It also slowed the movement of the storm, giving the rains more time to inundate the land below, with rainfall reaching 20, 30, even 40 inches in the path of the storm, creating the massive flooding so obvious as far as the eye could see.
Interviews of those who had not evacuated ahead of the storms and, as a result, suffered their worst impacts and nearly died, revealed that many of them had not been able to evacuate because they were too poor to have a car or afford the gasoline it would require, too poor to be able to pay for a hotel or motel or food for an extended time away from home. The poor were trapped. As Pope Francis pointed out so clearly in Laudato Si’, the poor suffer first and most from ecological degradation.
As Jesus faced a hostile culture into which to bring his Good News, the lessons of these events face a hostile culture of denial and rejection from the current U.S. administration and its supporters who are threatened by the types of change that must be undertaken to lessen the most dangerous and destructive impacts of global climate change. The U.S. administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords, the only nation on the planet to do so. It is reversing policies and regulations designed to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. It is claiming that the policies and actions by previous administrations harmed the economy. The Administration is trying to set the economy and the ecology in opposition to each other in an effort to win the support of working people struggling in the economy.
Pope Francis is right though when he insists that the human family is not facing two competing crises, one economic and the other ecological. We are facing one complex crisis with intertwined economic and ecological dimensions. They must both be addressed.
Standing up and speaking out for changing our living patterns, policies and social institutions meets scorn, rejection, and fierce opposition in many places across this nation and around the world. To speak truth faithfully in these contexts can be seen as a form of taking up the cross and following Christ.
There are strong community resources and supports. The vast majority of the scientific community is agreed on the human role in climate change and the extremely dangerous tipping points that Earth is approaching, tipping points threatening all forms of life. Faith communities around the world are centers of commitment to conversion from destructive patterns of human life and more informed and sensitive care for creation. Religious communities with a grateful sense of the gift that creation is from God have made institutional commitments to take leadership in the conversion from our destructive living patterns, supporting more sustainable and life-giving ones. Global climate networks are emerging capable of coordinating these efforts globally, sharing best practices and inspiring more effective and generous efforts.
Just this last weekend, a Global Climate Action Summit was convened in San Francisco, bringing together leaders of corporations, cities, counties, states, religious communities and more to encourage and learn from each other and to provide testimony to the rest of the world that although the U.S. government has withdrawn from the fight to save the planet, “We the People” have not. We are committed to continue the struggle.
Just to cite one encouraging report released at the conference, nearly 1,000 institutional investors with $6.24 Trillion in assets have now committed to divesting from fossil fuels, many of them committing to invest instead in clean energy sources.
So, from these reflections, what is our important preaching to the world? It is first of all to share our faith that God is faithful through these difficult times. Through failures and losses, suffering and even death – whether the deaths of those too poor to escape from the dangers or eco-martyrs like Dorothy Stang – God is at work in us, through us, and among us, to save us and to raise up new life.
Our preaching needs to emerge from our reflection and prayer, our searching together for how to take up these challenges more effectively, both personally and as communities of faith.
In other words, we too need to address these challenges with faith, thinking not as humans do, but as God does.
James E. Hug, S.J.