BE NOT AFRAID!

Friday, September 24, 1999

Readings: Haggai 1, 15b - 2:9 + Luke 9, 18-22

In lifting the precept of abstinence on Fridays during the year, the Catholic Bishops of the United States called the people of God to substitute some other form of penance. As we journey together in pilgrimage towards the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, let us be faithful in our Friday penances.

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The second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia was 520 years before the birth of Christ. The Jews had returned from their exile in Babylonia, and times were rough. Haggai was the first "post-exile" prophet sent by the Lord to the returnees.

Today we hear the call from ancient times, "Be Not Afraid," words heard again in the 1970s, when Karol Wojtyla, now John Paul II, stepped to the balcony in the Vatican and spoke for the first time -- "Be not afraid" was what he said, and what apt words for his reign. He spoke them when the world lay under the heavy threat of Mutually Assured Destruction and super-power rivalry. Today the United States Empire stands triumphant across the globe, yet it is beset on every side by challenges, crises, revolutions, wars, and tragedies; the defeat of one foe has solved one issue only to give rise to new and even more complex threats, many of our own creation and the results of many years of sowing in furrows of injustice.

Because of this and many other tragedies that could be cited, a crisis of confidence in the rulers of this world arises in this fin de siecle moment.

Unlike human rulers, Haggai reminds us that God is true to his agreements. Moving quickly to an eschatological vision of the shaking of the entire earth and all the heavens, the seas and dry lands and all the nations, he predicts that the power and spirit of the Lord will be upon the house that is being built. Be not afraid!

The daily lectionary readings in this season are in Luke, the Gospel of the Poor, and it is fitting that we walk with him as we go down in pilgrimage together towards the Jubilee Holy Year 2000; we also remember that one of the traditional sources of Luke was Mary.

It is a rare moment of quiet and solitude for Jesus and the apostles and holy women who followed the Lord. "Who do people say I am," asks Jesus. The answers are many, prophets and men of wisdom and boldness of ancient times. Then Jesus says, "But who do you say I am?"

And the story that has come to us says that Peter stood forth and said in reply, "The Messiah of God!" Jesus then tells them not to tell anyone about this. Some find this an enigmatic statement, but when we remember the social location of the view of Christ of this Gospel, it becomes very understandable.

The ability to blend into your surroundings -- to be as invisible as possible -- is a critical survival skill for the very poor and marginalized. Then as now, to be noticed is to be kicked, beaten, cursed, chased away. Jesus was becoming not very invisible. He had just fed thousands of people and preached a sermon of radical love that through all the years since those words were first uttered, has inspired many millions of people and brought much joy, peace, and healing into the world. Jesus in the very next verse shows where this is heading -- his own death and subsequent victory over death for all the human race.

I imagine the apostles sitting there and listening to all this and hardly being able to comprehend what was being said to them -- or what they were replying. Their ordinary lives as fisherfolk, tax collector, peasants and farmers were being changed by their relationship with this prophet from Galilee, which is to say, from the ghetto, the barrio, the sticks. They had been sent out with powers to cure diseases and rebuke demons. And they were continually hearing this radical gospel of grace and discipleship and the Reign of God on earth and within them and every other human being. This Jesus was obviously a man such as they were, but something else was going on. "Do you suppose he really meant he was going to be killed?" Be not afraid!

So what are you building as we journey in pilgrimage into a Jubilee Holy Year of justice and peace, redemption and reconciliation, forgiveness and joy? Are you ready to cast out demons of injustice and oppression, and heal diseases of hatred and strife? Can you leave behind your attachment to material goods so that you may go about your own life announcing the gospel of good news to the poor and disenfranchised? Are you ready to open your eyes so you can see those who are poor among us? Is your faith such that the dead in spirit can be brought to new life in Christ?

Will you take up your Cross and walk this pilgrimage with the Lord? That's the next statement that Jesus makes, after announcing his Passion to come. Those who would follow Jesus must find their own crosses to bear. In other words, how's our solidarity doing? Think about the impact of those words in an era when you could go see a human being die by crucifixion just about any day of the week.

Who is the Jesus who is being crucified today? The poor who are among us, we know this by the word of the Lord himself. It's easy to be in solidarity with the Jesus who we think is far away safe in heaven, but the Jesus who walks among us wearing distressing disguises, well, all too often that is a different story, and it's not so happy or so pious.

Thoughts about praxis: Open your eyes and see the poor. Notice them in the newspaper and on the street, on the television and the internet. What images of the poor are presented to you? What do these images and the realities which are behind them suggest to you in terms of solidarity? An examination of conscience is always a good idea, and it is often helpful to do this in light of a particular virtue. How do you demonstrate your solidarity with the poor Jesus among us? How do the institutions and structures in which you participate show their solidarity with the poor Jesus among us?

Sources for this meditation are the text of the lectionary readings and the historical data is from the Readers Guide to the book of Haggai in the New Oxford Study Bible.

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