Fourth-grade students, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Garden of Kindness (detail), 2020.
‘Only love is revolutionary’
Epiphany 7, Year C
Genesis 45:3-11,15; Luke 6:27-38
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were killed. Our artworks for today were created on January 28, 2020, by fourth-grade students at Sandy Hook.
Teacher John Schlimm invited students (drawing and writing together) to imagine what a Garden of Kindness might include. Students named flowers, trees, weeds, birds, bugs, animals, streams and ponds, sunshine and clouds, and people, as well as words: love, hope, peace, kindness, compassion, dependability, trust, friends, awe, fun (https://johnschlimm.com) …
“I am Joseph,” says the teary dreamer whose story is all about dreams, covenant promises coming to fruition. “I am Joseph,” says the dreamer to those responsible for his suffering. “I am Joseph … I mean you no harm … I desire your happiness, your wellness” (Genesis 45:3-11,15).
“Love your enemies,” says the teacher-dreamer whose life, death and resurrection centre about God’s dream. “Love your enemies,” says the dreamer to would-be followers and peacemakers. “Use your imagination … do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you.”
Joseph and Jesus speak boldly. They also risk bold action. The invitation is for us to take our own risks.
Regarding family and political violence – both within view – the texts are illustrative and not prescriptive, yet no less compelling for that. The dream is the call. The dream calls us to make the impossible possible, to embody the divine.
Joseph and Jesus speak and act with reference to a God of compassion, with reference to abundance (Joseph artfully discerns the hearts of his brothers – the right moment to reveal/expose his humanity, dignity); with reference to providence, what we might call big-picture creativity.
The dream produces a certain poetry. “God sent me before you to preserve life … Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good …” “Love your enemies … lend/give … expect nothing in return”, which may also be rendered, “do not give up on anyone” (the Greek text is richly layered).
Theopoetics inspires theopraxis. Do good. Bless. Pray. All of this in the context of creativity – the experience of Creation as giving, giving first, for-giving, grace.
“I am Joseph.”
“Love your enemies.”
“This is my body, given for you.”
The mystery of faith entails a grateful receiving/taking (appropriating, incorporating the gospel), but most deeply a thanksgiving (Eucharist). As Jesus says, “The amount you measure out [give] is the amount you’ll be given back.”
These are bold words. Sacramental. Fundamentalisms (there are various types) are passive when it comes to faith. Jesus, like Joseph before him, reverses this.
His gospel is not about slogans or doctrines passively consumed, so much as evocations, provocations – bold invitations to for-give, to give meaning, to give one’s life (including time, money, knowledge, expertise, affection, attention) with and for others.
Ernesto Cardenal writes: “God always gives more to those who give. God increases what they have. God makes them more generous … kinder-hearted …”
Cardenal commends finding/recognising common ground – not judging/condemning, but willing to see the good, willing the good in and for others. “Only love is revolutionary,” he says, “hatred is always reactionary.”
The invitation, then, is to join with Joseph, saying, “I am Andy” … saying, “I am Naomi … I mean you no harm …” To join with Jesus, the Lamb of God committed to breaking cycles of fear, blame and retaliation.
The dream of reconciliation/restoration and the dream of peace, God’s dream, invites our full participation.
It will mean something like turning the other cheek in the sense of reversing expectations of revenge. It will mean daring to face an abuser (daring to expose/reveal a common humanity, dignity) – an accurate paraphrase of turning the other cheek – though not in every situation, and rarely, if ever, on one’s own (I recall the dignity of two strong women … in solidarity).
Reversing expectations of revenge, appealing to the good – all this we are called to do together. “I am with Joseph. We mean you no harm. We desire the happiness and wellness of all.”
Let us go in peace to serve Creation in the Way of Christ … Amen.