14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

William Golding was a British novelist, essayist, and poet who died in 1993 at the age of 81. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, and is best known for his novel “Lord of the Flies.” In it he tells the story of a group of schoolboys between the ages of 6 and 12 stranded on a deserted island and their struggle to survive on their own and build order without the help of grown-ups. Even without reading the novel, I’m sure you can imagine how that story turns out. If you have met boys between the ages of 6 and 12, or if you used to be a boy between the ages of 6 and 12, you know what could possibly go wrong if you leave a bunch of them unsupervised on a deserted island. The worst that could go wrong eventually did. It tells us we are well aware of what human nature is capable of, despite our hopes that those who possess intelligence, reason, and practical sense will not descend into anarchy, violence, and chaos.

The characters were inspired by the author’s childhood experiences, his years as a schoolteacher, and his service in the Royal Navy during World War II. He admitted he was something of a bully himself when he was growing up. After graduating from college, he taught English and philosophy in an all-boys school. And reflecting on his experience during the war, he observed that human beings possess great potential for horrendous and terrifying evil. Left unchecked and unopposed, a person who deeply craves power and control will not hesitate to set aside social conventions of reasonable and civilized behavior to establish the rule of tyranny over their neighbor, eventually resorting to intimidation and physical violence if anything or anyone gets in the way.

“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding is a work of fiction. But we are painfully aware of the truth it reveals even today. We see it play out in inner city neighborhoods and school yards, among street gangs and schoolchildren. We see it brought to life in world leaders unwilling to share the role of governance, who have little desire to work with other leaders, and who seek to establish and hold absolute control over everyone else. The more power and control at stake, and the more destructive the weapons at their disposal, the greater the potential for harm against the human family.

St. Paul hints at this very human predisposition for dominance and control in his letter to the Romans, when he writes about the flesh and the spirit. “You are not in the flesh,”[1] he writes. “On the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Those who are in the spirit are not driven by selfish desires for power and control. The Spirit of God dwells in them, and they belong to Christ. St. Paul tells us that Christians should already be aware of God’s supremacy over all earthly power. So any and all exercise of leadership is but a sharing in God’s divine sovereignty. And those who share God’s rule as civil leaders, spiritual shepherds, or heads of households should strive to raise up, to heal, to liberate, and to encourage others. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, … you will live.”

It is a most striking contrast then that the prophet Zechariah presents us an image of a conquering king, a glorious hero, a triumphant warrior entering his city in grand style riding on a donkey. The image reminds us of Jesus’ own entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We probably don’t think serious, worldly, sophisticated people will ever give serious consideration to such an image. There is just something clueless and naïve about it. Besides, we all know what happened to Jesus later in the week after that triumphant entrance. And no serious, worldly, sophisticated leader would expose themselves to their known adversaries or any random physical danger without an advance security sweep of the area, a well-appointed Secret Service detail, and the threat of massive and merciless retaliation if any harm ever came their way.

In recent years, the arrogant display of military power meant to intimidate and destabilize our fragile world order is a sad reminder that the kingdom of peace and justice that Jesus proclaimed slips farther and farther beyond reach. Multiple conflicts and humanitarian crisis across the globe and a profound absence of collective will to resolve them are pushing us to become more fearful of our neighbor, more defensive and isolationist in our thinking, less willing to share our resources and intelligence, and less open to extending assistance to those in need. It will definitely take a lot more to calm our hearts than Jesus’ assurances of his Father’s love and care for us.

Now we are less likely to detect evidence of God’s gracious rule in our midst unless we are also willing to be such evidence to the world around us. If Jesus is to establish his Kingdom in the world, we who are his disciples would need to proclaim convincingly that very Kingdom by our words and our way of life. We cannot expect people who do not know Jesus to lead that charge. Here’s another way of looking at it. If we as Americans say we uphold freedom yet we withhold from certain groups in our own society the same fundamental rights everyone else enjoys; if we say we uphold justice but repeatedly ignore the cries of the poor and defenseless; how can we credibly expect the rest of the world to want the freedom and justice we proclaim? Similarly, if we do not proclaim with conviction the joy and compassion and charity of Jesus by our words and our way of life, we will not be able to convince others why they should want the same. And it is less likely we will notice it in the world around us either. So the first step in establishing the Kingdom of God out there is establishing the Kingdom of God in here, in our own community, in our own homes and families, in our own lives.

I was having a discussion with friends over dinner yesterday (Friday), and we touched on how we pass on our faith. It is no big news that we are not doing a very good job at it. I mentioned that like most things we pass on to the next generation, our Christian and Catholic faith will undergo the same test as everything else young people receive from their parents. What is it? Do I want it? Can I get something better, more beautiful, more exciting, and less demanding elsewhere? Does IKEA make it? Does Walmart sell it? Can I get it on Amazon? Why would I even want to keep it? So just because something is of value to us is no guarantee it will be of value to them.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke … for I am meek and humble of heart.” Many around us are weary. They labor under the heavy burden of fear, poverty, and injustice. We can only lead others to Jesus if we have embraced him first ourselves. We cannot give in to fear, we cannot cave in the face of arrogance and violence. If we are in the spirit of Jesus, we possess already God’s life. Now we have to pass it on.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] Romans 8: 9.