Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent – Do not stay in the past; make openings for new beginnings

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International

[Ed. Note: This is the sixth in a series of reflections throughout Lent from Rev. Paul Lansu. Reflections on the Sunday readings will be posted each week on the Friday before the Sunday which the reflection references. Holy Day reflections will be posted the day before the actual Holy Day. See all of these reflections and other resources at this link.]

Is 43:16-21 | Ps 126 (125) | Phil 3:8-14 | Jn 8:1-11

Once, a people had left slavery behind. They found a way through the turbulent sea with an entire army chasing after them. Then they went through a long, difficult journey in the desert. That exodus remains in the memory. Prophets say that a new exodus is always possible: “Don’t stay in the past.” God says: “I am undertaking something new.” The beginning is already there, don’t you see it? A new exodus is possible for a people that can pull away from their burdensome past.

In this period of Lent, God is guiding us in our efforts to move and transform from slavery to freedom, from evil to good, from war to peace, and from injustice to justice. Evil, injustice and war still exist in our world. War, just as slavery, should be abolished.

Do we need scapegoats?

Labeling a person as a legitimate target is a nerve-racking tactic in present-day violence. Whether it is a terrorist group pointing to a lawyer or a building contractor, or whether it is a fundamentalist leader singling out a writer for execution, the fear aroused often evokes a sense of powerlessness in the community of the endangered person. Usually the labeled one is represented as a threat to some value that is important to the group; they in turn proffer execution as the best solution to protect their interest. Their authority to execute comes from their inner self-righteousness as guardians of what is good. Our human history has regularly designated scapegoats in order to resolve a conflict. Often it is a different people or nation, or a different religion, that we call scapegoats. Eliminating a scapegoat can only bring peace for a while and only for the powerful, but is not a structural solution to conflicts. The outbreak of discontent and war remains a possibility.

Execution horrifies us but character assassination is alive and well among us. To eradicate it from our lives would make us more human and make our families and communities oases of peace, joy and hope. To refuse to do so is to allow the cataract of self-righteousness to blind us forever.

The pillory – the end of future

In the centre of Dworp, a village close to Brussels, near the old town hall, there is a pillory that is now a monument. I can imagine it was no fun being tied to it when you had done something wrong or something that was not acceptable to those in charge. Today we no longer use that pillory. To put someone to shame now happens in other ways: via the internet, Facebook, Twitter and other social media for example. Pin people down for their behaviour so that they no longer have a future. It certainly happens.

The scribes and Pharisees make use of a woman, a public sinner, to put before Jesus a specific dilemma. The woman is only a “case” to make Jesus stumble. According to the Law, she must be stoned. Practices like this still exist today. So how does Jesus react? He writes in the sand. Opposite the words of the Law carved in stone, Jesus writes in the sand. You can wipe out what is in the sand with one gesture. This gesture of Jesus is of great significance. What he wants to say follows in his response: “He who is without sin must throw the first stone.”

Those words give a different turn to the situation. The Law may be so, but take a different look. Look at the person in front of you. It is possible that this person, here this woman, has misbehaved. However, a person is always more than his or her actions. Look at yourself for that, and you realise that there is also a lack of wholeness in yourself, even failure. How often do we ourselves have to count on the patience or mercy of others? Would God not have that patience, he who is Mercy himself?

Opening to new life and a future

We find Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. Scribes and Pharisees wave the law to give an adulterous woman her appropriate punishment. Jesus sees through them. Quietly he says: “He who is without sin may throw the first stone” One by one they drop off, the elders first.

They drop off, these would-be attackers. The closed circle around the woman opens. The future dawns again. “Go and sin no more.” The word of Jesus makes that future visible. It means: “I don’t pin you down for your past. I don’t judge you. A new beginning is always possible for God.” That sounds incredibly liberating. God wants life for us; he does not work with pillories. God asks that we would also grant each other this. Such a road leads to Easter. We can hopefully continue on that way.

Human rights are the underlying foundation of peacework

People can revive again, even after difficult times. God’s answer is that we should make room for mercy for everybody, for each human being. Each person has the right to live in dignity and experience the values of human rights in a reciprocal manner. Jesus breaks open the spiral of evil and opens perspectives for a new beginning for those who have made mistakes in their lives.

The dignity of human life is the cornerstone and foundation of human rights. When human rights are neglected, a systematic exclusion of the vulnerable happens. People are part of different social networks: family, upbringing, culture, religion, career, etc. The (shared) responsibility for social/public life lies with people themselves in the first place. Jesus calls the woman, a public sinner, to change her life, convert, and is reminding the broader society of creating learning places of hope and new perspectives as a way forward.

New life includes hope for a better way to live together

Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of humanity through the liberation of sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair to pass through your life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to interact with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to draw close to other people, to accept how they are different from us without fear. Peace workers are people of hope and pass that hope on to others.

We continue our Lenten season, a time of stillness, austerity and preparation for Easter.

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Photo credit: Hope

 

Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18 – Love is the heart of nonviolence

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

Jeremiah 31:31-34 | Hebrews 5:7-9 | John 12:20-33

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In today’s first reading from Jeremiah we hear that God wants a “new covenant” with us human beings. The old covenant bond between God and people, with laws carved in stone, had not worked out well. The Lord offers to forgive and forget our failings and to build a more intimate relationship, with His laws written upon our hearts.

“Let us look at our hearts,” Maryknoll Sister Connie Krautkremer says. “A healthy heart is strong and it is soft. Because of its ability to adapt to changing circumstances, it beats sometimes fast, sometimes more slowly. Our lives depend on that flexible faithfulness. So, how is a law in my heart different from one carved in stone? We responsibly obey just laws that govern our lives. But more is expected from a law that is ruled by the heart. Not just obedience, but also compassion and forgiveness are required of us. These are a lot more demanding than simply following a rule.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus uses a grain of wheat to teach about obedience. The seed must fall into the ground and die in order to produce more seeds – food in abundance. This means dying to self, letting go of being so sure I am always right, that my way is the best way. Instead we are to be ready and willing to forgive and ask forgiveness. Our hearts are softened when we forgive, and, at the same time, the heart must be soft in order to forgive.”

The fifth of the six principles of nonviolence defined by Dr King is “Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.” Nonviolent love is spontaneous, unmotivated, unselfish and creative. “The nonviolent resister not only refuses to shoot his opponent; he also refuses to hate him. At the center of nonviolence stands the principle of love,” Dr. King wrote in Stride Toward Freedom.

“The nonviolent resister would contend that in the struggle for human dignity, the oppressed people of the world must not succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter or indulging in hate campaigns. To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.”

Cutting off the chain of hate “can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.” Love means “understanding, redemptive goodwill toward all people.”

For King, this love is the power of God working within us, explains William D. Watley in Roots of Resistance: The Nonviolent Ethic of Martin Luther King, Jr. That is why King could exhort us to the highest possible, unconditional, universal, all-encompassing love. King the preacher believed God worked through us when we used the weapon of nonviolent love.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit: Image of a Quechua-speaking local woman weaving a runner in Cusco, Peru by Flickr/Jae, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/julieedgley/4262119066/in/photostream/.
Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2 – With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption

by Martha Inés Romero
Latin America Regional Coordinator, Pax Christi International

Ezekiel 37:12-14 | Romans 8:8-11 | John 11:1-45

In the midst of the suffering caused by poverty and marginalization, in Latin America and the Caribbean, every day people build stories of change, resistance and resilience. These stories witness the involvement of many missionaries – religious and lay, women and men – promoting peace-building and nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation. We hear stories about the incarnational humanness of the work for just peace and overcoming violence, the work that brings meaning to life.

Archbishop Oscar Romero said:

“When the church hears the cry of the oppressed, it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.”

This message caused a great impact on our people to continue fighting against injustice. These days good news occurs in our context: El Salvador’s Congress approved a law prohibiting all metal mining projects in its territory. At the same time, in a small town, Cajamarca in Colombia, 99% of its inhabitants voted to ban mining. It implies that a big gold mining company may not be permitted to extract gold – a $2 billion potential investment that could yield 28 million ounces of gold – because people voted to defend their water. Both cases have been deeply supported by the Catholic church, as a way to care for the Creation, as Laudato Si’ demands to us.

We must believe that Creation is life offered, and that we shall commit ourselves to contribute to a new lifestyle, according to suma kawsay or “buen vivir”, the Andean cosmovision that promotes a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically balanced and culturally sensitive. We defend life when we defend our respect for the dignity of every person and the harmony of Creation as a whole. Transforming conflicts from a nonviolence approach is a way in which we can react towards violence and injustice.

Let’s pray for those who defend life and Creation, with their life if necessary, as in El Salvador and Cajamarca, and with Psalm 129, we shall reaffirm: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.

Martha Inés Romero is the Latin America Regional Coordinator for Pax Christi International.