Sunday, July 12, 2015

A moment of grace

Amos 7:12-15, Ephesians 1:3-10, Mark 6:7-13

I will never forget Schindler’s List, the well-known film about an opportunistic businessman who, during the Second World War, sets up a factory in Poland using cheap Jewish labour from the ghetto. As the ghetto gives way to work camps and worse, he does everything he can to keep his workers from the gas chambers. When he expresses his sorrow for not having done more, the reply comes: “To save one life is to save the world”.

If the story has a happy ending, it is that eleven hundred families are now growing and thriving as a result of what Schindler did. We saw many of them as the film flashed to the present day just before the credits rolled. 

Schindler’s own story, however, ends very sadly. After the war his marriage breaks up and all his business ventures come to nothing. It is as if his bravest deed takes all his power and energy, leaving him empty.

For me, the most moving thing about the film is the mysterious change in Oscar Schindler. Buoyed along by forces more powerful than himself, this unscrupulous con-man reaches that amazing moment when he realises that these poor Jewish victims have in some mysterious way become his people, and that he loves them.

This is Schindler’s moment of grace. Whatever else might happen to Schindler, he could never be the same again.

Many people experience a moment of grace, a turning point when life takes on a new significance, when previously held values are turned upside-down. It can happen by being overwhelmed by love, by beauty, or by tragedy and despair; it can happen when we stumble into a place of worship and know the mingling together of earthly and heavenly realities; it can happen in the silence of our reflection on life’s meaning, or when we meditate on the Scriptures.

The point is that this “moment of grace” requires a response from us. Schindler could have suppressed his growing feeling for the his Jewish workers, but - as the film shows - he chose to help them, with all the risks involved.

In today’s first reading, Amos has a “moment of grace.” God, out of love for his people, tells him to walk away from his job, cross the border into the Northern Kingdom, go to Bethel, the holy city of the North, and tell the people there that if they don’t change their lives they will be destroyed. 

Now, in contrast to other Old Testament prophets such as Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Samuel, Amos was a pretty ordinary man. No great scholar, no important family background. He just looked after sheep and dressed sycamore trees. But he was happy and content with his life.  

When Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, told Amos to go home, Amos said that he didn’t ask to become a prophet. God sent him. So he had no choice but to speak the word of the Lord. In Amos 3:8 he says: “The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”

God’s call to Amos upset his predictable but enjoyable life. Amos responded, and although the people to whom he was sent rejected his message, his prophecies became part of Holy Scripture, illuminating Jewish and Christian people alike for the last 2,700 years!

In the Gospel reading, we witness another “moment of grace”. The first disciples are ordinary men from a range of backgrounds.  But Jesus calls and sends them out insisting that they travel light, preaching repentance. Some people will accept their teaching with joy and, consequently experience the mighty works of God in their lives. But others won’t - in which case the disciples are to leave quickly and move on to the next village.

This is an important passage, for Jesus shows us that the truth is not dependent on the people to whom it is addressed. The truth is dependent only on the Word of God. Something is true because it is true, not because it is popular to say it! 

People haven’t changed. In our day no-one really wants to hear that truth is not determined by averaging out all available opinions. Just think of the bio-ethical debates going on around us now, or the arguments about what constitutes marriage. None of us really want to hear the preaching of Amos or Jesus in areas where it challenges how we have determined to live!

You and I have so many “moments of grace” in our lives. In fact, each time we come to Mass, we are not only nourished supernaturally by the holy Bread of eternal life; we are challenged by the Holy Spirit to return to the context of our daily lives living and sharing God’s truth even when it is inconvenient and makes us unpopular. And I don't just mean “spiritual” matters. I( mean the debates of our day, which, of course include economic, justice and peace issues. 

Jesus didn’t say that we would find it easy to bear witness to his love and truth, or that everyone will respond to the Good News we share, and put their trust in him. God doesn't kick the front door in and just take over. He has given everyone the freedom to reject his love and push him away. 

But Jesus did promise us the power of the Holy Spirit, so that whether few or many respond to our witness, we can continue to love them, serve them, and lead lives as significant for those around us as the heroism of Oscar Schindler, the courage of the prophet Amos, and the faithfulness of the original disciples of Jesus.


Post a Comment