The gospel story talks about the needed depth of commitment for a disciple. There is to be a preparedness to give up everything for the gospel. That is a kind of conviction that few of us are called to demonstrate. It’s the conviction of the holy martyrs, it is the commitment of everything, heart and soul, that we see in the early Christian Church, that we see today in Christian communities around the world who live under active persecution in places like Afghanistan, Communist China, Iran, Nigeria, and so on.
It is plainly put in Mark that salvation depends on a total commitment. Jesus makes it clear that there is tremendous reward for those who stand firm in their faith. So, for the Christian what ought to motivate is not fear of damnation, but the prospect of heaven.
Yet the disciples are alarmed by what they hear; they know their weakness and the power of fear, and so ask “then who can be saved?”
Jesus tells them God will provide the needed grace: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
We know from the stories of the martyrs, people like St. Perpetua, St. Lawrence, that the help comes, even if it does not rescue them from the wild beasts, or the torturers attentions.
These convictions of Christian faith gave rise to western civilization. The belief in the fundamental equality of all before God, the inherent dignity of each person stemming from being made in the image and likeness of God, the principle that there is no higher authority than God, and that earthly authority is accountable to this greatest power; that authority is to be exercised for the sake of maintaining these principles.
It was a very long process to get from a gathering of Galilean peasants puzzled by the words of Jesus to where we are today. Humanity’s progress is very slow, and faith is what keeps us persistent in living out gospel values such that we generation by generation remove ourselves from barbarity and superstition, and edge closer to being worthy of Christ’s second coming.
History shows that human impatience, our attempts to accelerate the pace of change, without really knowing where humanity is intended to go, has led to disaster, to mounds of corpses, to war, famine, oppression, corruption, torture and cultures of fear, deceit, mistrust.
It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, a time to acknowledge the good life we do enjoy, how free we are from the nightmares of history, or even those of today’s news. We give thanks for the gifts that we regard as coming from God; in the wider sphere of our secular culture, a vaguer sort of providential power is perhaps invoked in the act of thanksgiving. But I would hope that what we have in common is that we are thankful for what we have, especially as so little of what we have is deserved or earned but is a legacy to us from our ancestors.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure many of you work hard to contribute to making this a better place. God bless all of you for that.
However, I think we all recognize that in the great lottery of life we are big winners in being born in Canada, within western civilization—no matter what the wokesters say who busy themselves pulling down statues and decrying what they have inherited as some great criminal enterprise that needs to be ended. Perhaps western civilization has been the worst civilization, except for every other one. We could be living in very different circumstances.
People work very hard in places like Moldavia, Mali and Myanmar to much less result in either material wealth, personal freedom, or length of life lived in good health. Billions live under oppressive regimes, such as that of Communist China where apart from work and contributing economically to that society, you must constantly demonstrate your support for the regime and remain silent in your criticisms so as to earn “social credits” that permit you a nice vacation, a promotion at work, your child’s placement in a good school, and so on.
That’s something we don’t want here.
If we are thankful for what we have, we then need to protect it. This gift we’ve received is to be passed on; as it came to us from our parents, grandparents, and the generations that stretch back well beyond our personal memory, people we never knew, who never knew or imagined us, nonetheless worked to make something here that was a departure from humanity’s cruel history: a place of freedom, peace, tolerance and prosperity. That was something that required sacrifice; and still does; and I believe most of us share in the conviction that this must be protected, never given away for it might prove impossible to get back.
Today, however, we have been brought into civil conflict. I would place responsibility for that on our political leadership.
Many are convinced that we are in a dire emergency situation that requires extraordinary measures; that once the emergency is behind us, we can return to the society we were, with all of its legal conventions and civil traditions. This is an understandable position. It speaks of faith in the essential goodness of humanity and its capacity to recover and restore itself to health; to resist the temptations of power and to embrace discretion in its exercise.
And given that our governments have spent more in the last two years to address the crisis than was spent fighting the whole of the Second World War, it would be hard to say this is not an exceptional situation.
However, if we remember the Second World War accurately, that it was not fought to rescue concentration camp victims, but was a conflict in terms of visions of what human society ought to be, what are the fundamental freedoms of human individuals, what authority the state ought to have; whether the political leaders are the ultimate authority or God is; then we might understand those who are fast approaching a clash of deeply held convictions over what we are doing in Ontario, Canada, around the world. Many have concerns raised by what is happening.
There are those who in sincerity see at stake our bodily autonomy, the right to control what goes into one’s body free of coercion; the right to privacy – for example, while I have spent my years in ministry going to the very places regarded as the hotspots for respiratory infections, going every flu season to hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes, I have never been asked there, or anywhere else, for proof that I had my flu shot. And the flu is a deadly disease for those in nursing homes and hospitals.
Others will be reacting out of concern for the principle of informed consent; that there is government overreach in attempting to censor and control the discussion of policy; of worries over how big tech like Google and Facebook censor discussions. How these forces are coming to together to declare what is truth and what is misinformation. The federal government continues to toy with legislating on this, giving to politicians and bureaucrats the power to determine what is truth.
That speaks of a fundamental lack of trust in people; and many are beginning to reciprocate in their lack of trust in those who are in charge, whose leadership on any number of matters does not seem to be effective, gives indication of corruption, is marked by hypocrisy, inconsistency, hubris, be it matters of public health, the economy, diplomacy, national defense, and so on.
I’ve spoken about this before, and tried to show that in the issues of our day, “the other side” must never be simply dismissed. The problem I’ve had in citing arguments and evidence as to the legitimacy of political positions is that there is an assumption that I am arguing that position. And that is not my intention. I just know that in the media you are not apt to hear “the other side.”
I’ve said this before, it is a bad sign when opposing factions look at their opponents and cede nothing in terms of the credibility or validity of their position but put down their disagreement to only one of two things: you disagree either because you are stupid or you are evil.
Such thinking leads to the conclusion that if those we disagree with are stupid, they are no great loss to us; if they are evil, then it is an obvious good that they be gone.
My mother’s family name is Jewett. From what we understand that is a corruption of the French name Jouette. They were what is known as Huguenots – that is, French Protestants, and in the 16th century there were about 2 million of them among France’s then population of around 20 million. And if you know anything about the Huguenots, you will know they went from enjoying toleration to suffering horrific persecution. The infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre saw mobs murdering men, women and children in the thousands in the streets of Paris.
This prompted a great exodus; many, like my ancestors, crossing the channel seeking the protection of the English. France drove ten percent of its population away.
Now, of course, in the face of persecution, they needed only to convert back to Catholicism. You can imagine how well that appeal went. It is understandable that the last thing one would want is to be neighbour to your former tormentors; rather, you’d rather just leave and start over somewhere else.
This was a continuation of the cycle of violence, of retribution that Christ came to stop.
The reality today is that there aren’t a lot of places to go; to banish those you’ve defeated, or as the losing side, run to for safety. Any alienation that comes from this clash of convictions will be lived out here; the “other side” won’t be going away.
There will be a considerable number of fellow Canadians who for reasons of principle will not acquiesce to the vaccine passports. They will lose their jobs, their homes; their presence will be missed in our hospitals, transportation systems, service industries, etc.
We need to work from that deeper and common conviction that this must be placed in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ; that in his example we can find our way. And that will not be by threats and punishment, coercion that never convinces. We must stop ourselves from taking up the cudgels and whips, figuratively speaking, but I daresay, speaking also quite literally.
It’s hard work, entering the kingdom of God, but we must do this hard work for the sake of the good news.