Fr Matthew Power’s homily on 9th June 2020
1 Kings 17: 7-16 Matthew 5: 13-16
A couple of days ago the Vice-Chancellor wrote to the University to praise staff for all they have done this term to ensure that students receive the best possible education in the present situation. She began her letter: ‘As we enter the seventh week of term I know that everyone is exhausted’. And I am sure she means what she says. And then having thanked everyone for their tireless adaptability in response to the relentless demands being made on them, she then makes another striking acknowledgement: “I have to acknowledge… the devastating impact on all of us of watching a defenceless man being murdered before our eyes on television” – she is, of course, referring to the death of George Floyd in police custody in the United States two weeks or so ago – and she recognises that protests taking place here in Oxford have legitimately insisted “that we take practical steps to accelerate the pace of change [here in the University] and to ensure that every member of our community is treated fairly and equally.”
The prophetic voice (whether that of an individual or a group) is rarely comfortable to hear not least when you are exhausted. Most of us in the situation of the Sidonian Widow would, I suspect, have felt considerable resentment at the demand that Elijah makes of her. Many of us might well be feeling in respect to the ‘Black lives matter’ protests that we have lots to handle at the moment and little emotional and psychological space to embrace this cause. I feel this when I contemplate other prophetic voices that are crying out that we ‘build back better’, as the slogan puts it, in the coming months as we chart a way forward for our world. But when Elijah asked for water and food, the Sidonian Widow responded.
As followers of Christ we are called to be salt of the earth and light to the world. Implicit in that, and Elijah says this to the Sidonian woman, is that we be not afraid, that we trust that the Lord will provide, will not leave us without resources to respond to what the Lord desires us to respond to.
None of us can do everything, and quite legitimately one may come to a moment of saying I have given what I can give. Key here I think is prayer. The more stretched we are, the more we need to give time to be with the Lord, not least so that we might sense the Lord’s love for us.
We speak a lot these days in the life of the Church about discernment and if we are not to over exhaust ourselves in our attempts to respond to the many different demands on us, we do need to be as discerning as we can be. I think we can find the idea of discernment intimidating but maybe we just need to think of it as the kind of sensitivity about what to do or not do that is made possible by having my heart and mind shaped by my relationship with Christ.
We need to hear the cry of the earth and the cries of the poor and those being treated unjustly. We need to believe that we cannot, as Christians, stand on the side-lines of the critical issues of our times; as it says in Gaudium et Spes, ‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anguish of the people of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ’. We will often bring a different perspective to issues and might need to disagree with particular approaches and certain values espoused. And we will need to be brave enough, as I know some of you have been in recent weeks, to take up those issues that society refuses to engage with and risk what true prophets always risk, to be vilified as Christ himself was vilified. Light of the world and salt of the earth – a vocation for us all.