Sunday, April 12, 2015

When In Rome...

2nd Sunday of Easter
(Divine Mercy Sunday)

Picture: cc Joe Ross

When in Rome-dot-dot-dot. 

Sisters and brothers, can you complete the sentence for me? Of course you can, right? It’s simple. When in Rome... do as the Romans do. We’re all familiar with this proverb. We know what it means. When in a foreign place, try your best to blend in. To follow what everyone else is doing. That’s good advice. At least for the most part. It helps us to learn from the locals. And to avoid trouble. But surely the proverb holds true only for the most part. And not all of the time. Not in every situation. Why do I say that?

Well, what if the Romans happen to be cannibals? What if they feast on human flesh? And what if they practice human sacrifice? What if they even offer the lives of their own children in worship to their local gods? What are we to do then? Are we still to do as the Romans do? Shall we simply continue to imitate them? Just for the sake of blending in? Just to avoid trouble?

Of course, that is one option we can choose. To go to a foreign place and do exactly what the people there do. But that’s not the only option. We can also refuse to imitate them. Refrain from doing what we consider to be wrong. We can choose to continue keeping to what our conscience teaches us to be right. And we can do this in two ways. Or rather at two locations. First, we can choose to do this from the safety of our own home. That’s to say, we can refuse to travel to Rome in the first place.

Which is, of course, the easier option. The far safer choice. The one that avoids trouble. The other option is much harder. Which is to actually insist on keeping to our own values while living in a foreign land. Among a strange people. Even if it gets us into trouble. To choose this last option is really to rewrite our proverb. And to do it not just with our lips. But with our lives. No longer when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But when in Rome, keep doing what your conscience says is right. No matter the cost.

If this last option sounds really stupid and reckless. Then we can perhaps begin to understand how the disciples must be feeling in the gospel today. As they huddle together in that room with the doors closed, for fear of the Jews. They have just witnessed the horrible fate of their Lord and Master and Friend. He travelled from his heavenly home to a foreign land. To their own sin-soaked world. On a mission of mercy. To teach people how to live differently. How to act no longer out of selfishness and fear. But out of love and compassion. And so to enter into the fullness of life. Yet, for all his trouble on their behalf, they sent Jesus to his death. A most painful and disgraceful death.

What possible reason then can the disciples have for wanting to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. To die as he died. To be disgraced as he was disgraced. Surely, what happened to Jesus is proof enough that the proverb should be strictly followed. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or else, don’t go to Rome at all. If you insist on doing what is right, then better to lock your doors and remain at home. Better to stay far away from all foreigners.

Sounds like good advice. Sounds like the prudent thing to do. And yet, that is precisely the mistaken choice that the Risen Christ comes to correct. To those who have been frightened out of their wits. Scared into hiding behind locked doors. Jesus comes on another mission of mercy. First to console. By word and by deed. He says to the disciples, Peace be with you. Then he shows them his hands and his side. And they are filled with joy. Their pain and sorrow transformed into gladness and delight. They rejoice because the One who had died lives again.

But Jesus doesn’t just console. He also commissions. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Sending you away from the apparent safety of home. Sending you out into the messy and dangerous world. On the same mission of mercy that I received from my Father. To live the same way I lived. The way I taught you to live it. And to do it with the courage and joy that I am now imparting to you. In the Holy Spirit. The courage and joy that comes from knowing that I am alive. The courage and joy that comes from believing that, even if you have to suffer, even if you have to lay down your life as I did, you too will be raised. You too will enter the fullness of life. And not just you. But also those who accept what you say. Those who choose to follow me.

To be consoled and commissioned. To be supported and sent out. To live, in this world, the values of the world to come. This, my dear friends, is the dangerous yet joyful experience of Easter. An experience that has concrete effects. Effects described for us in the first reading. Where we’re told that the whole group of believers was united, heart and soul. And this unity is shown in a very concrete way. Everything they owned was held in common. So that none of their members was ever in want. Social historians tell us that their works of charity and mercy were what set the early Christians apart from the rest of society at that time. The disciples lived in the world. But they did not do what the rest of the world did. And, as a result, they sometimes had to pay the price for standing out. Persecution. Suffering. Even death.

And yet, many persevered. Why? How? By holding firm to what the second reading teaches us today. That anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world–our faith. And this victory is shown in charity and mercy. In the willingness to be sent out into the world. To live no longer for ourselves but for others. To live differently from the world. So that the world might be saved.

Sisters and brothers, this is what Easter is all about. This is what the Resurrection means. Victory. The victory of mercy over selfishness. Of charity over indifference. Of life over destruction. This is the faith that our readings invite us to profess. And to live out. Joyfully and courageously. In our own world today. For, like the early Christians, we too live in a sin-soaked society. Which operates in ways contrary to the gospel. Ways that may even look like cannibalism and human sacrifice. Privileged people (including myself) maintaining our privileged lifestyles by feeding (knowingly or not) upon the broken bodies and difficult lives of the underprivileged. And grownups sacrificing their children (more or less knowingly) to the idols of money and success.

Sisters and brothers, can we deny that these things still happen today? In this modern world of ours? And if we can’t, then surely we must ask ourselves what we Christians are prepared to do about it. The options are clear. We can live in the world in exactly the same way as everyone else. Hiding our faith behind locked doors. Professing it only with our lips. Within the safe air-conditioned confines of this church. One to two hours a week. Or we can let ourselves be sent out by our Crucified and Risen Lord. To live in charity and mercy. In justice and peace. In courage and joy.

When in Rome-dot-dot-dot.

Sisters and brothers, how will you be choosing to complete this proverb with your life today?

1 comment:

  1. When in Rome, do as the Romans do...

    Yet, do we dare to be different and is the majority always right ?

    do i dare to take a stand for CHRIST and His Values and dare to be different, even to the extent of paying a price for this "bold" decision?

    Do I dare to take a stand for Christ and pay the price?

    In our current secular world, it is not always easy to stand out like a sore thumb and take a stand for Christ.

    Over the past 2 weeks, I had the grace and courage to dare to be different and I sure paid a very high price for this decision.

    Yet, in retrospect, I have no regrets for this courage and bravery - thanks be to God!

    I am now set free from a kind of "deadly/subtle" imprisonment/bondage - a kind of whirlpool which when sucked in; I may never be able to get out of it on my own... yes, it's that dangerous if I am not saved in the nick of time bY THE RISEN LORD!

    hence, like St Paul, I pray with a deep conviction:


    Pax Christi
    Seeing Is Believing
    18 April 2015

    Over the past


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