This week I have been thinking about the reorganisation of the Church in Melbourne. I was listening to a podcast on urbanization and the sacred which got me thinking about Melbourne generally. How do I see Melbourne?
So, I would like to start with a question: how would you describe Melbourne to a stranger? Another way of asking the same question: when someone visits Melbourne, what would you show him or her? Would you take them to the MCG or Healesville Sanctuary, maybe the Twelve Apostles or Portsea Back Beach? Would you prefer to do a foody tour, maybe the Queen Vic, South Melbourne or Dandenong markets, brunch somewhere or a pub lunch, and then your favourite Viet or Greek restaurant or just your favourite neighbourhood in which to graze? Perhaps a bar-hop round the CBD after a trip to Heide or the NGV or a show at the Arts Centre? Or perhaps drinks are an entrée to a concert at the Forum? How would you describe Melbourne? And I would like to you to hold on to that question.
I mentioned a podcast on cities and Christianity before. I was listening to it on my walk. The talk in question was the first in a series looking at how our faith understands cities. The speaker mentioned how the Book of Revelation sees paradise as a city, the new Jerusalem. He therefore suggested that we needed to think about cities, think about their form, think about their conditions, but most of all to think about their point. Why do they exist? What do they so that other communities don’t?
I was sitting in my car listening to the end of this talk, wondering about the point of cities, when a class of school children walked past my car. It was a class of children with various disabilities. Some had different syndromes, some were in wheelchairs, most seemed to have some form of intellectual disability. And they were doing what any class of children that age would do. Some were enjoying the gorgeous weather walking hand in hand with their carers; some were talking to each other; some were causing trouble for those looking after them; some were getting distracted by life happening around them. And I could not stop thinking about this revelation the whole way home.
Later that day, I came across a message online that spoke to this revelation. Someone had written and I quote:
We would know we had become a civilised society if parents of profoundly disabled children were able to face up to their own mortality without the additional anxiety of not knowing whether their children will be able to live a decent life when they’re gone.
Pope Benedict when he spoke on today’s readings noted a strong connection between our gospel and second reading. He said part and parcel of proclaiming Jesus as the Christ is the picking up of one’s Cross. It is not enough to say the truth, one has to live it. Faith without action is dead. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. The concrete life of divine revelation.
I think the same goes for another gospel passage, one related to today’s passage, and one which also is echoed in our first reading today. Our gospel today has Jesus asking the disciples who do people say I am. But we also know that at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus himself tells us who he is. He is the lonely, the one in prison, the sick, the dying, the homeless, the desperate, the hungry. Again, it is not enough to say this. We have to live it. We must approach them as we would Christ.
Mark’s gospel that we heard today leaves out a bit we find in Matthew’s version of the same event. In Matthew’s gospel, there is a bit of play on Peter’s name. When Peter makes his confession, Jesus says, “You are Peter (meaning rock) and on this rock I will build my Church.” Later, when Peter remonstrates with Jesus over the prophecy of his death, Christ calls Peter a “skandalon” which means stumbling block. And so we have this play on two types of stone, on who Peter is: foundation stone or obstacle.
On a similar theme, some of you might know the story of the martyrdom of St Lawrence. St Lawrence was in charge of the funds of the Church of Rome. When the prefect of Rome demanded he hand over the treasure of the Church to the government, he gave away everything to the needy and then presented to the prefect all the crippled, poor and suffering people in the church as the church’s treasure.
So, how do we view the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable in Melbourne? Are they trash or treasure? Are they the cornerstone of what we are building or an obstacle to where we want to go? Basically, if Melbourne is supposed to be a foretaste of heaven, if cities somehow are supposed to make present the body of Christ, when Jesus asks us who do people say Melbourne is, what would we say? More importantly, when Jesus asks us who do you say I am, what would we say? Finally, would anyone know that answer from looking at our lives, from looking at our city?