Luke 11.23 “Anyone who is not with me is against me; and anyone who does not gather in with me, throws away.”
Today’s gospel ends with a verse that teaches there are really only two ways to be in the world. I am either with Jesus or I am against him. There is no sitting on the fence. While I think I am living as a Christian, Lent is a good time for an honest evaluation of my life. In today’s first reading God is giving the prophet Jeremiah the low down on his people who have not, and most likely will not listen to him nor take his correction. Yet knowing their stubborn unwillingness to hear it, God sends Jeremiah to tell them the truth anyway. Psalm 95 seems to plead, “If only you would listen to him today! Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah”.
Okaaay…we are well into Lent and I am listening. Am I with Jesus? Am I doing as Jesus did? Honestly?
First and foremost, do I truly care for the poor? So many are living in poverty, dying of hunger or fleeing in terror for their lives. Their stories and images are with me. I want to care. I make an effort to give to the most pressing needs. I try to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit when there are opportunities to give. But I also admit that I really struggle with the ongoing suffering in the world, in my community and even in my family. When I just keep taking it all in, I can begin to think it is up to me to make it better. I can become overwhelmed to the point of despair.
Other times, I react and take matters into my own hands. I quickly re-post a heart-breaking Facebook piece about human trafficking, hoping that by passing it on, someone else will have some idea what to do. I delete an email from Chalice, (a Catholic humanitarian organization) describing yet another natural disaster that has left thousands destitute. I look away from the growing number of men who stand at busy intersections holding cardboard signs that say “Please help! Hungry and Homeless”. I see but react to protect myself, so that I won’t feel so guilty and helpless. Much of the time I choose to think more comfortable thoughts, to serve those who make me feel good with their gratitude and to pray for my own family. This is clearly not what Jesus did.
Lent is a time for conversion, not only for turning away from the sins we commit, but also for turning toward the good acts we often fail to do. Today’s reading shows me what I am doing wrong. I have not turned toward God, to bring my great sadness to him and to listen to his gentle guidance on how to respond to suffering with compassion as Jesus did. Failing to pray when I am disturbed by what I see and experience is a sin of omission. Today I am invited by God’s word to Jeremiah and by Jesus to acknowledge my sin, of turning away from God and not really wanting to listen to God’s voice that both reassures me and challenges me to care for those who cannot love me back.
I call myself Christian but today I am sad to see how far I have been from the life you lived.
Please help me to turn to you when I am tempted to self-serving actions and aversion to the needs of the poor.
Open my heart to truly listen often to your beautiful dream for the world, especially when I feel despair creeping in.
In recommitting to praying always, let me be continually filled with your compassion and strength for all those afflicted with suffering.
Then show me what I can do and give me your grace and the courage to do it.