4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME C
AN OPEN LETTER TO JESUS
Lord Jesus, the gospel today is a heart-rending narrative of your experience of rejection. Imagine, after the initial wonder and amazement at your teachings and healings, the people now start judging you based on their narrow standards. First they look into your origins and realize that based on their inquiry your father was the Joseph they knew, a simple man, a commoner, a nobody in the community. Second, they demanded that you please them by performing wonders before their very eyes so that they would believe.
That you did not correct them and say that your real father was the God in heaven and that Joseph was merely your legal or foster-father is something hard to understand. That you did not comply with their wish to do miracles is beyond me. You could easily have done both, Lord. Or maybe, you are modeling for us how to react, or better still reflect, when you face rejection or when your faith is challenged.
Your story has a sequel today Lord. In our country you are rejected. The mouthpiece of this refusal to believe in you is a powerful man who by your grace you led to the summit of his dreams. Of course, he does not seem to know it. Before, and especially after gaining power, he pounced on your church calling it hypocritical and corrupt. He derided religious leaders by cursing them, accusing them of all things, even though unfounded and hilarious.
Oh lately, he called into question your state as God just because he could not understand why you had to die in sacrifice on the cross? It is not a wonder then that he would next reject your teachings about the Kingdom of God where the Father is sovereign and where the Holy Spirit works in hearts that believe. It will not be long before he proclaims the Bible fiction. Let’s wait until next month…
Shocking too are the verbal tirades against church leaders, priests and bishops, who he now subtly offers to people as possible victims of hatred, robbery and killing, because they are stupid and useless. I’m sure he really wants to see a church destroyed for once he said he wanted to start his own church and that people who voted for him should follow him there.
Ah, the people, your people Lord, how do they take all these? They laugh when he gives speeches that attack their faith, their leaders and their God. They proclaim on their facebook profile that they “proud Catholics” but also proclaim even prouder that they support the man who does not respect their religious convictions. And the majority, both of leaders and people just keep quiet, without a single sign of disagreement, disgust and denunciation of this phenomenon that you would not expect from a person who is supposed to teach people how to treat others rightly.
Do your people just believe that he is joking all the time? Then maybe it is better for him to enter showbiz because we need someone to replace the late Dolphy. Or do people think it is not worth it to answer back because they are afraid of this leader who commands both respect and fear among his followers. Or are the people sympathizing with him and identifying with him in their own doubts and questions about faith, their observations about their religion, and their own widening distance from the fervent and docile experience of their forefathers? For many today are not anymore believers but truly say that they are seekers, who unfortunately cannot anymore find what they are looking for in the institution of their infant baptism.
And for those who want to defend their faith, their church, their religion from all these, what do they have to do, Lord? There are some brave souls who attempted doing this and were repulsed by politicians, netizens and specially the employed trolls. Some prayed for the death of the attacker. Some wished him ill. Knowing you Jesus in the gospel today, you would never take this mode of defense. In fact you never defended yourself. You kept your cool and you just walked away.
Are you telling us by this, to be indifferent and just suffer inwardly and behave cowardly? Or are you challenging us to prioritize reflection over aggression, and introspection before public demonstration?
The faith you taught your apostles and disciples spread through all the world and continues to be proclaimed despite the harshest opposition and persecution of Christians in China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and other countries. In fact, the more tested the Christians there were, the more vigorous they became in principle and in number. It is true that Christians in our country never suffered persecution, a necessary ingredient to purification and strengthening of their love for you, Lord.
It is a fact of history that those who tried to destroy your legacy are now remembered in history only in the negative things they did because of their cruelty, dictatorship, and insanity. Did you not say: heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away? How true it is in the experience of those whose faith was severely tested.
The one who attacks our faith today is not interested in the reasonable response from the Bible, from Tradition, from the teachings of the saints, or from theology. No, he is not engaging people in a debate. He is only distancing them from their faith. Do we not learn this from the example of absolutist leaders who successfully weakened the church in Cambodia, in Cuba, and in Albania? Some people think that you need to defend the faith by explaining the doctrines and dogmas. Even religious fanatics from sects and cults are not converted by rational explanation and if ever, rarely. In general, enemies of the faith are not interested in the solid answers of the faithful.
So how do we act in this situation, Lord? In your own life, you did not go about responding to every doubter or answering every objection. What you did was, and specially in the gospel of Luke, to seek out the poor, the oppressed, the neglected, the lonely, the outcast and the unloved. This was more powerful than any blog post, sermon, interview or official decree.
And isn’t this a truly crucial challenge, Lord? Because people will not abandon their faith just because a powerful man questioned your divinity and your crucifixion, your teaching on the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the holiness and wisdom of your saints. There are thousands of voices that have done this before in the hope of converting your people to other religions or to fellowships, sects and cults. Still so many resisted and kept the kernel of faith.
People truly awaken to questions about their faith when they realize that the criticism may be true. The criticism in fact, may not be true but just fabricated. But if it sparks a doubt, then people are shaken, confused and led away. They may very easily entertain doubts about where their donations go or how it is used, or that their leaders are filthy rich and keep many personal secrets, or that they care more about their bank accounts than about their flocks. They will easily doubt these because somehow they observe it or worse, because they have never had a meaningful encounter with the shepherds of their souls who are busy receiving stipends, going abroad, buying condos and riding their flashy cars.
Jesus, you went around town. How many of your apostles now do the same if there is no stipend involved? Lord, you visited homes. How many of your disciples today stay in their assignment for years without paying a visit to their parishioners unless there is a birthday party? Lord, you sought out the outcast and unwanted. Are not pastors and ministers of other sects more frequent in doing house calls to families while their own priests rest and watch sports channel or rarely emerge from air-conditioned residences or offices? Jesus, you invested in the hearts of your young followers. Why are your disciples today hesitant to spend resources on the young and instead enjoy the company of the old ones who have money to bring them to places of eating and merry-making?
Oh Lord, I feel how greatly you want people to defend their faith, to live their faith and to share their faith. Not in the manner of the world. Not using the tactics of the angry. Not in the level of the intellect. But by way of love, of simplicity, of authentic interest in the lives of the people they serve. When you touched people’s lives in a personal way, Lord Jesus, you assured that the faith you planted will remain with them until death, and will flourish in them all their lives. Thank you for your lesson. Help us to learn…