12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
My dear friends, do any of you still remember that old movie entitled The Untouchables? It tells the story of how US Treasury agent Elliot Ness and his team brought the gangster Al Capone to justice. In a particularly memorable scene, a senior member of Ness’ team, played by Sean Connery, has been gunned down in his own home. Shot repeatedly with a machine gun, he’s been left lying on the ground. Dying. His body covered in his own blood. But somehow he manages to grab Ness by his coat. And, with his dying breath, repeats a question that he had been asking his boss earlier. What are you prepared to do?
What are you prepared to do? Sisters and brothers, have you yourself ever encountered situations or scenes like that? I don’t mean scenes where someone has been shot. But situations that grab you, and question you. Inviting you to a change of heart. Calling you to deeper commitment. Summoning you to give your life for something bigger than yourself. Have you ever encountered situations like that? Do you remember what they feel like?
Well, this is the kind of situation that our Mass readings are placing before us this morning. In the first reading, the prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when the wayward citizens of Jerusalem will be made to gaze upon someone whom they themselves have pierced. And the sight will move them to mourn and weep for this person. To mourn and weep as though for an only son. And their tears will become a fountain that will cleanse them of their own sin and impurity. It will change their hearts. Transform their lives. Turn them back from their waywardness to the worship of the one true God.
Scripture scholars can’t say for sure to whom exactly the prophet is referring. Who this pierced one is. But we Christians interpret the passage as a reference to Jesus. Especially as he hangs dead on the Cross. And then has his side punctured by a lance. He is the One who was pierced through for our faults. Crushed by our sins. And when we allow ourselves to look at him, to truly gaze upon the Crucifix, the scene has the power to transform us in important ways.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us about one of these ways. You are, all of you sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. By his dying and rising, Jesus has transformed us from sinners and enemies into his sisters and brothers. And through him, we become sons and daughters of his heavenly Father. So that there are no more distinctions between us. Neither Jew nor Greek. Singaporean nor foreigner. Slave nor free. Man nor woman. We all belong to the Lord. The moving sight of the Crucified Christ has the power to unite us. To reconcile us. To one another and to God.
How does this happen? It happens when we allow ourselves to be questioned by Christ as he hangs on the Cross. Not unlike how Jesus questions his disciples in the gospel today. Who do the crowds say I am? … But you, who do you say I am? This is not a theoretical question. But a practical one. It is meant to be answered not just in words, but in deeds. The response it invites is made in the way in which people live their lives. And, provided they respond correctly, the question has the power to change them. To transform them. From being simply members of the crowd into true disciples. Committed followers of Christ. Who invites them to accompany him as he walks the lonely way to Calvary.
If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me… In other words, what are you prepared to do? This is the powerful question that is addressed to us every time we gaze upon the Cross of Christ. Every time we gather for the Eucharist.
But that’s not all, sisters and brothers. This powerful question is addressed to us not only when we are piously immersed in prayer. It is also addressed to us every time we encounter people who suffer. Especially people who suffer because of the sins of others. People who suffer perhaps even for our own sins. And, this weekend, we’d like to remember one group of suffering people in particular.
As you know, tomorrow is World Refugee Day. A time to recall some of those who continue to suffer from being driven from their homes. Here are some disturbing statistics. Today an unprecedented 59.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. Among them are about 19.5 million refugees, 51% of whom are under 18 years old. This is the highest figure for child refugees in more than a decade. About 38.2 million people have been forcibly uprooted and displaced within their own country and are known as internally displaced people (IDPs). There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement. About 42,500 people are forcibly displaced every day as a result of conflict or persecution.
My dear sisters and brothers, in this media and information saturated world of ours, it is possible to remain unmoved by these statistics. To become numb even to scenes of terrible suffering. But it does not have to be that way. Especially not for us who call ourselves Christian. Followers of a Crucified and Risen Lord. Who continues to call us to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the crowd. To claim our God-given dignity. Our identity as his sisters and brothers. Sons and daughters of the same heavenly Father. By allowing ourselves to be questioned by his Cross.
My dear friends, in the face of great suffering on a global scale, what are we prepared to do today?