Lent, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2019: Reflection for Third Sunday of Lent – Second breath, a call to take responsibility

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

[Ed. Note: This is the fourth 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.]

Ex 3:1-8a, 13-15 | Ps 103 (102) | I Cor 10:1-6, 10-12 | Lk 13:1-9

Calling out in the desert. We all know that feeling. No one hears; no one listens. When we do get a response, we find a second breath. With that second breath, we can call again, re-engage and re-believe. We hear that Moses finds a second breath after God calls him from the burning bush. In addition, we read that the vinedresser finds a second breath and commits himself to the up-to-now barren fig tree.

Members of justice and peace groups and social organisations need a long-term commitment, a second breath, to engage themselves permanently. A second breath that God always gives.

In everything that happens, we consistently look for the responsibility of others and we look less critically at our own share. If we want to build a better, peaceful, more just future, then each of us must take responsibility. Making mistakes is very human. You can correct errors (or have them repaired). But not taking responsibility or even turning the blame on to someone else is bad and a shame.

Moses cannot but accept his responsibility. He knows that his people live in slavery in Egypt; it does not let him go. In the burning bush, he hears the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: “I have seen the misery of my people. I know their suffering. I come to liberate my people.” Moses calls for the name of this God. But this is a God who cannot be captured in words and pictures. Moses must do with: “I am who I am.”

The gospel does not evade responsibility. Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree, a metaphor for the city of Jerusalem. The fig tree produces no fruits; Jerusalem is corrupt, playing the game of the powerful nations around it and not a city of peace. Jesus is strict, pointing out the bad situation, but leaves an opening for a new beginning. This way the fig tree gets a second chance and Jerusalem a second breath.

Every Sunday of this Lenten time, the theme of the Exodus returns, a symbol of every road that leads from slavery to liberation, from injustice to justice, from violence to nonviolence. The temptations are not lacking on this route. In spite of God’s constant care, the Israelites succumb and die in the desert. Christians are also not immune to the dangers of evil. Contemporary forms of evil are poverty, hunger, exclusion, violence, underdevelopment, discrimination, racism and more.

Christians should continuously inspire and encourage each other to safeguard human dignity, both in human growth and in human suffering and dying. Reciprocal love shall be humanity’s culture.

Read the signs of the time

This requires continuous nourishment and ‘resourcing’, looking for and giving purpose from a Biblical tradition. The gospel asks us to regularly test and explain the signs of the time. What is currently taking place in the world and what is its deeper meaning? Forever daring to ask the question: what is our society today like and what must be done to communally turn all people in this society into better people?

The never-ending effort of people to live together with others and to form a true society means that one person’s good life contributes to someone else’s good life too. Helping one another is essential to this process. Among other things, it is about care, well-being, charity, compassion, solidarity and assistance toward each other.

Sometimes it goes beyond that and one has the duty to help people in need, even thos ‘unknown people’ who are in need. This then often leads to dilemmas: where lie the boundaries of human or individual responsibility and where begins the state’s responsibility? Dilemmas are not negative or threatening; rather they make life interesting.

Volunteer work is like yeast in the dough

Pax Christi International is essentially a peace movement of volunteers. The “acte gratuity” may be understood as an essential component in social commitment soliciting reciprocity, commitment, generosity and responsibility. Peace workers always need a second breath. After all peace work is an unfinished agenda, unfortunately enough. Their persuasion and taking responsibility make them agents of change — an effort in line with the Biblical image of “yeast in the dough.”

Working for justice and peace is done in the understanding that the human being is not a solitary being but a social being and that his or her integral development primarily needs relations to fulfill his or her destiny.

Building peace is not solely something done for and through ‘professionals’. Working on peace is everyone’s responsibility. Peace is every person’s calling. That is why we ask ‘all people of good will’ to cooperate. The communal frame is the need for a peaceful and just life. Every person and population group has the right to peace and security. I am sure, convinced, that I will only feel safe and well when others share that feeling. Christian peace work offers a platform where people can meet and communicate and, importantly, eliminate potential disagreements.

It is a virtue to bring people together. A good society is characterised by a fruitful tension between space for difference and the search for what we hold in common. The political community is thus at the service of the human community. That requires social pluralism, so a diversity of goods can be shown to its full advantage.

The justice and peace sector not only needs many professionals but also needs many who continue to live from a necessary urgency to seek and give meaning in life.

Again, we are invited to live through this Lenten season of faith, reconciliation, generosity and service, culminating in the Easter mystery. This season is meant to bear fruit in our lives.

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Photo credit: http://www.techofheart.co/2008/01/what-burning-bush-spoke-so-spoke-mansur.html
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 4 – Let us defeat injustice rather than each other

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

Exodus 20:1-17 | 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 | John 2:13-25

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In this week’s Gospel reading we hear about Jesus’ reaction when he enters the temple in Jerusalem and finds the people have turned God’s house into a marketplace. The temple is bustling with the buying and selling of animals used as sacrifices and services by money changers who help people make their purchases.

Known as the cleansing of the temple, Jesus “made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

The people, naturally, are appalled by Jesus’ action because buying and selling in the temple had become the norm. They ask Jesus “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus replies that he will destroy the temple and raise it up again.

The Gospel of John concludes, “But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.”

Let’s look at the third principle in Dr. King’s six principles of nonviolence: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.

“Nonviolence liberates the oppressed and the oppressors,” John Dear wrote in Living Peace: A Spirituality of Contemplation and Action. Jesus took a stand against immoral action in the temple without hate for the people and went on to call for love for everyone. “Jesus offered the ultimate teaching on nonviolence: Instead of killing your enemies, love your enemies,” Dear said.

“Life continuously reveals to us how deep our own violence lies within us. We will never become perfectly nonviolent because we have been thoroughly socialized into a culture of violence. But we can turn away from violence, seek peace, practice heartfelt compassion toward others, and publicly participate in the world’s nonviolent transformation.”

“As we make peace with ourselves and welcome the God of peace who lives within us, we will learn to make peace with those around us and with others throughout the world. The challenge is to do both: to pursue peace within and to pursue peace with the whole human race.”

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

* Photo credit:  “NonViolence” (1988) sculpture by Fredrik Reuterswärd at the United Nations Visitor Center, by Paul Stein, licensed in the creative commons 2.0 and available at http://bit.ly/2F3SL2S
Lent, Nonviolence

Lent 2017: Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 19 – Water is a gift for everyone; breaking down the dividing walls

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

Exodus 17:3-7 | Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 | John 4:5-42

The Gospel readings of this period of Lent 2017 open up ever-deepening aspects of the personality of Jesus and his mission among us.

In the Gospel, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman in public, a woman from another background and culture. She is from a people ostracised by his own people and she is living publicly in an irregular relationship.

Water wells bring people together. Communication and meeting one another — not least with the enemy, the stranger or those from another culture — is an attitude of nonviolent resistance and is the beginning of peacebuilding. The “other” or the “unknown” encounter is not obvious. “Othering” is a form of excluding other people. It is sometimes “dehumanising” the other as an opponent. Both Christ and the woman at the well are criticised for talking to each other and for taking an interest in each other’s backgrounds. Samaritans and Jews did not mix and were encouraged to keep it that way.

However, Jesus and the woman built a bridge between the two very different cultures. He did not condemn the woman but made her the messenger of good news, despite her being regarded by others as a hated foreigner. Bridge-building is the result of an active nonviolent attitude.

Jesus did the unexpected and requested a drink from the woman. By doing so, Jesus accepts the Samaritan woman as a person: she exists! She is seen as a child of God, a person worthy of the deepest respect just like any other human individual.

He then moves to offer her a share in the life of God which he describes as “living water.” She glimpses the wonder of the moment and dashes off to share it with the neighbours. Drawing water was a humdrum part of the Samaritan woman’s life. Her generous kindness opened the way for Jesus to touch her and change her life and that of her townspeople.

Water is central to the giving of life. Clean water is one of the most precious gifts in the world. Water can give life. Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all is a major goal of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

The witness of Christ in his public life is that he cuts through various forms of discrimination. There should be no obstacles between people(s)! Christ is breaking the cycle of violence by taking at least four steps.

Firstly, he treats men and women equally. Respect the other as he or she is.

Secondly, Jews, Samaritans or people from any other tribe all have a right to food and drink. Human rights are universal, including the right to water.

Thirdly, nobody is excluded from God’s love.

Last but not least, he showed that deeds speak louder than words. The reality is that, if you are thirsty, you don’t want endless debates about where the water comes from or who has a rightful claim to it.

Fr. Paul Lansu is Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International.