Charting a Perilous Course
In the latest jobs report published on Friday, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the unemployment rate at 14.7% in April, with nonfarm payroll employment falling by 20.5 million. And next month’s jobs report will likely confirm our fears for what yet lies ahead. If we are not worried for ourselves in the short term, more than likely we know people who worry more than their fair share. This darkness is of such magnitude, it has and will continue to engulf many lives. But it will not overcome us.
Despite the immediate future looking rather bleak, we try to not be disheartened. Most of us will likely be asymptomatic, whether or not we catch the virus. But we won’t know we had it until after we’ve given it to others, who may respond less favorably. So we need to take proper precautions. We can never be too careful.
The things we cannot control directly, we will find creative ways to address, like school and childcare and entertainment and personal fitness. On meeting people’s basic needs, we have seen communities mobilize to assist their more vulnerable citizens and supply food where access is difficult. Farmers have found ways to distribute perishable produce and surplus livestock directly to the public to limit waste. People will surely find many more creative ways to solve our most pressing challenges.
Now those of us unaccustomed to taking charity will soon discover the need for greater humility since beggars can’t be choosers. And the rest of us will just learn to live with far fewer choices than we have gotten accustomed to living in this land of plenty.
The community of Jesus’ disciples never really had a plan either for after the resurrection. They never got around to composing a mission statement or a flow chart of offices and responsibilities. They never approved an annual budget or a calendar of activities. They probably never imagined life would get more complicated than it already was, with every household doing what they always did, providing for their own needs, keeping a low profile, minding their own business, maybe committing an evening or two to prayer and small group discussion, and that one major gathering with everyone on the weekend for prayer, instruction, and Eucharist.
Then it came to the attention of the community that some widows were being neglected in the daily distribution, which was addressed accordingly. It seemed somebody had to complain, which tells us they weren’t always mindful of potential trouble spots. But they recognized the challenge, came together to hash out a plan, and delegated the important work of charity to a new order of ministry. I like to use this model of leadership myself when some people like to throw problems at me, or rather, opportunities for expanded ministry expecting me to ask how high when they tell me to jump. Instead, I nod thoughtfully, and invite them to offer suggestions to address the need. Some people prefer to complain rather than actually offer solutions. But if we are truly a community of Christian disciples intent on discerning God’s will together, we need to listen to one another, explore creative options, and sincerely work for the greater good. We can either fall together or stand together. There is no middle option.
Jesus Christ, whom we proclaim the foundation of God’s grand design, chosen and precious, was rejected by those whose privilege and responsibility it was to build up God’s people. Instead, that stone rejected becomes the cornerstone of an even greater structure, “’a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people … to announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
So how does all this come about, this chosen race, this royal priesthood, this holy nation, this people of God? Jesus’ closest friends gathered in the upper room the night before he died were just as clueless. “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Thomas just said out loud what everyone else in the room was thinking, along with “Where are you going? Why can’t we come, too? Why later and not now? When are you coming back? What do we do while you’re gone? Are we there yet?” Clearly Jesus wasn’t referring to a physical place, some grand palace with lots of individual well-appointed suites and gorgeous views. To be in the Father’s house is to be with Jesus, to be present to Jesus, and he to us. Have you ever wanted to be with somebody so bad it didn’t matter at all where you were physically, just as long as you were with them? That’s what it means to be with Jesus in the Father’s house.
“Then show us the Father.” “Phi—lip! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” They must have missed it when Jesus said it, “The Father and I are one.” It was a new teaching, something new about the nature of God. But if it was true, that whoever sees him sees the Father, that makes Jesus the fullness of the revelation of God. To see and know Jesus is to see and know the Father. The Father and the Son are one.
His apostles would probably wish for more time with him. But Jesus believed they already knew him truly and deeply. “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?” When our encounter with Jesus is decisive, personal, and real, it transforms us from within. It is not limited to any one place or moment in time. That encounter lives on in us, shedding light upon our darkness, becoming a spring of Living Water within us, and feeding us as Living Bread unto eternal life.
When we emerge on the other side of this dark valley, there will be a lot of rebuilding to do—our lives, our church, our nation. Those accustomed to complaining, blaming, and criticizing will keep doing just that. We will need to stay on course with Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the cornerstone, chosen and precious in God’s eyes. And the work of the Kingdom will only come to fulness in the Father’s house. In 1979, Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw composed a prayer attributed to St. Oscar Romero that captures our role as living stones Jesus builds into a spiritual house.
“The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts; it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. … We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing this. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”
We face real challenges up ahead. But we are neither powerless nor on our own. So be prepared to lead, or follow, or just get out of the way.
Rolo B Castillo © 2020