In a time of pandemic and fear, it’s worth reflecting on the difference Christ makes.
The gospel reading begins by referring to John the Baptist’s death. I’m sure you remember that story. It’s a real case of lifestyles of the rich and shameless. Herod throwing a party, Salome doing her party piece dance, Herod promising her anything, her demanding John’s head on a platter.
The rich and powerful getting what they want.
Herod and his followers gave lip service to the Jewish faith, they probably appeared at the Temple occasionally, but they had sold out to the religion of the Roman Empire, the worship of power.
In the Mediterranean world that Jesus lived in, he and his fellow committed Jews had a unique take on religion. That unique take was that God was compassionate.
Our first reading and the psalm today both speak of the love and compassion, the sheer generosity of God. They also speak of the amazing development in the faith of the Jewish people, the development from believing that this loving compassionate God was just for them, to an understanding that all people, indeed all creation, were invited by God to live this life of love and generosity.
Universal love and compassion, about as far from the worship of power and riches as it is possible to be.
When plague and pandemic hit the world, the religion of power says keep yourself safe, don’t worry about others.
We’ve certainly seen that in the present day. Whether it’s the governments in Wuhan and Beijing not acknowledging the early growth of the virus for fear it would reflect badly on them, world leaders in the USA, Brazil and the UK not taking it seriously for fear they would seem weak, or it could endanger their re-election, or as we saw a few weeks ago the US government, in a truly shameful action, buying up the world’s supply of a drug that could possibly treat the disease, we see those in power preferencing selfishness and greed for power over cooperation and compassion for all the world.
The religion of compassion inspired service is what we see in the gospel reading. The 5000 are poor, hungry, and desperate for hope, and our Lord has them give what they have, and then can miraculously feed them all. A faith of compassion inspired service today would mean that governments all over the world would work together to find a cure, find a vaccine, and care for the sick and dying. This is happening in some places, but certainly not all. Jesus Christ has made a difference to the world, but there’s still a way to go. In our own situation here in Melbourne we see most people doing what they can, but there are still those who turn away from the common good, who selfishly decide that they have the right to ignore laws made to keep all of us, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.
Of course all of us need to remember that, difficult though our situation may be we are still far better off than those who live in the favelas of South America, or the slums of India.
The compassionate love that Christ shows us is actually more powerful than the religion of power, than the worship of those the world worships. Paul tells us this in that truly wonderful reading we heard today. Nothing can come between us and the love of God, made visible in Christ Jesus. Paul refers to the powers, the powers that seem to run things, princes, or as we would say today presidents and prime ministers, the heights and depths, created things, nothing can stop the love of God.
If we truly believe this, take that love into our hearts, and act on it, we can be beacons of compassion for those around us, and if we Christians have the strength and faith to do so, we can truly serve the world in this crisis as our Lord served over 5000 men, women and children. We can encourage our governments to work for the common good of the whole world. Jesus today serves the world by his compassion and love. May we take that heart of service into our own hearts and hands, and help bring healing to all our neighbours.
2 Aug 2020, Deacon Jim Curtain