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God’s compassion shatters the hardened heart

  • June 10, 2016

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 19 (Zechariah 12:10-11; Psalm 63; Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24)

Sometimes it takes an act of God to touch and move the human heart so that the tears can flow. Throughout history, up until this very day, people have often meted out countless acts of cruelty, injustice and unkindness towards one another. Leafing through history books, one could get the impression that history is written in blood. The worst part of it is the calloused and numbed consciences that seem unable or unwilling to acknowledge guilt or empathize with the pain of the victims. 

It is a grace to see and experience the pain and suffering that we have collectively inflicted on others, without the self-justifying blinders and denial. When that happens, we are stricken, just as King David was in last week’s reading. 

In the prophecy from Zechariah, God promised to pour the spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Why? So they could experience pain, remorse and grief for the injustice and cruelty that they had committed. It is unclear whom they had pierced, and theories are plentiful — King Josiah and Zerubbabel are among the contenders. It referred to the collective disappointment in the late sixth or early fifth centuries B.C., after the return from exile. 

The early Christian community read this passage and others in Zechariah as prophecies of the Messianic status of Jesus. The main point is that the compassion of God shatters cold and hardened hearts. 

Grief, tears and remorse are signs of healing and new life. In recent years, we have begun to mourn many things: the Holocaust, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the enslavement and extermination of indigenous peoples, two world wars, racism and sexism, anti-Semitism and countless acts of cruelty and injustice. We have a long way to go, and many view remorse and grief over these misdeeds as humiliating signs of weakness. 

“Why should we feel remorse over these things?” many would ask. Because they are so wrong, they offend decency and humanity. Because they deface the image of God in our souls, lessening our ability to love and to be happy. And because they deeply hurt and offend God. 

Paul believed that Christ was the solution and healing for all forms of human division. By being baptized into His body, people left behind all sense of separation from and superiority over others. Very simply put, in Christ the barriers and labels that people create to divide and separate disappear, leaving only our common humanity and the image of God in each of us. The male/female, slave/free and Greek/Jew divide no longer exists. 

Unfortunately, this is just too scary for many people, so they work overtime to re-create all of the labels and divisions and add even more. Sadly, they have done their work all too well. 

Jesus Christ cannot be completely understood in strictly human terms. Jesus posed the famous question to His disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” The answers were plentiful, all reflecting human culture, traditions, opinions, hopes, fears and prejudices — just like today. We all have to answer that question for ourselves, and the answer must come both from above and within. 

Peter’s answer was correct but incomplete. Jesus went on to explain what being the “Christ of God” really meant. It did not mean power and glory in our common understanding of those terms. In fact, He went on to explain that it meant letting go of everything. The Christ would experience rejection, suffering and death — not really in the job description of a Messiah. He continued with something that probably shocked and upset them. If they wanted to be His disciples, they had to be prepared to do exactly the same. 

What does it mean to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily? It’s another way of saying freedom — we will be free from the self, with all its fears, desires, resentments and self-promotion. Forgetting self and focusing on the needs and well-being of others is a wonderful way of becoming part of God’s grand plan rather than the centre of our own little universe. When we clutch on to what we are deluded enough to think is ours, in the end we will lose it anyway. If we release it, we will be filled with blessings without end. 

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