Monday, 16 November 2015

Week 33 Monday (Year 1) - 16 November 2015

Readings: 1 Maccabees 1:10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-63; Psalm 119; Luke 18:35-43

The readings from Maccabees have a modern feel. There are issues of national identity and religious tolerance, with which the world still grapples, and already they are proving tricky to negotiate. It seems at first as if Antiochus Epiphanes is the model of an enlightened secular ruler: 'all should be one people'. But the price of this is that each should 'abandon his particular customs'. Modern secularists do not begin from this point: they will want to assure us that everybody can retain and celebrate his particular customs. So far so good.

Likewise Antiochus' plan makes good progress, non-Jews seem to have no difficulty with it. But as things develop it becomes clear that his 'secularism', as it must be, is in reality another religious position which, to be true to itself, must begin to impose its values and practices on everybody. And that means eliminating values and practices that are too strongly identitarian, that seem to be exclusive, and so threaten the universalist, pluralist project. So they trespass on Jewish holy places and begin to destroy Jewish holy books, punishing with death anybody who insists on observing the 'particular customs' that belong to the Jewish law. Presumably the Maccabees and their supporters will have been branded as fanatics as they might continue to seem fanatical to enlightened modern ears.

Such ideas and movements present huge challenges to human societies, as we are well aware this weekend with events in Paris - not forgetting (as we had probably not really noticed before Paris) terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Beirut earlier last week.

Jesus does not give any specific answer to this set of questions and concerns. He does not engage in political philosophy, still less in politics. What he does do is restore sight to the blind and perhaps that is the most fundamental need of humanity in all the difficulties it faces. We need to see, to see more, to see more clearly, to see more calmly, to see together, to see each other, to open up spaces of freedom and conversation where human beings can share their deepest desires and fears. 'Live and let live' is a good starting point but it only takes us so far in a world of competing interests, a world with such a deep chasm between power and powerlessness, between the rich contentment of the developed world and so much poverty and oppression elsewhere, so much exclusion and humiliation.

Humiliation - it seems to be the most powerful force in the genesis of violence. The humiliation of the Jewish people by Antiochus Epiphanes provokes the violent rebellion of the Maccabees. The people with Jesus wanted to keep the blind man quiet, in the background, out of the way. He had to assert himself, shouting all the louder. Jesus receives him as He wants to receive every man and woman, saying to them what he says to the blind man, 'what do you want me to do for you?'

This week, as we reflect on the problems of our world and their terrible cost in human suffering, it is good to keep this question in mind, a question from the Son of God to all human beings: 'what do you want me to do for you?' And we know, if we see anything clearly, that our answer cannot include the humiliation, exclusion, or destruction of other creatures. We must find ways not just to live and let live, but to live together, to walk together on the road of life. It is what Jesus makes possible for the blind man: at the end he is no longer sitting by the way but following Jesus on that road. It is what the Lord of life wants for everybody, that we seek constantly to overcome our blindnesses and so learn to walk together on the road of life.

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