Saturday, 20 June 2015

Trinity 3 - Who cares?

"Don't you care?"

Half the world's looking like it's heading for a shipwreck, if it hasn't happened already, or in more modern usage, a car crash: millions are in danger of starvation, sickness, terrorism, tyranny, abuse; in Africa, in the Middle East, here in Britain in their own homes. We hear of people literally out at sea, fleeing the horrors of their homelands and in great peril. And what to say of the great ship of the Church, lurching so perilously between the Scylla of scandal and the Charybdis of indifference, while the ageing timbers splinter and groan? Tempting to ask the Lord, isn't it, that question the disciples asked Him when a storm threatened their lives at sea: "don't you care?"

We're a literate society, we engage with each other and with God in part through texts, and so we tend to expect answers to our questions in words. I must say, when people come to me in distress, I cannot give the answer Jesus gave, which amounts to saying "just have faith." Coming from me, it would sound glib and pious. It wouldn't help. Telling someone just to have faith won't take away their bereavement, their homelessness, their unemployment, their physical or emotional wounds and scars.

I doubt that faith made it any easier for Mary, first and most faithful among the saints, to watch her Son die on the Cross. Christian faith is not the kind that lets us watch the suffering of others dispassionately: it's not the faith of an Agamemnon or a Stannis Baratheon who can watch with grim, dutiful resolve as his daughter dies to placate an angry God, nor is it the resigned quietism that says of every atrocity, "it's for the greater good," or "it's part of God's plan." It's not a faith of complicity with the inscrutable will of some bloodthirsty despot or abusive father in the sky, notwithstanding that's how of some of our detractors portray it. But might those detractors not be nearer the mark when they say that if God does exist - unconsciously echoing the disciples in the boat - He just doesn't care?

Perhaps the answer lies not in Jesus' words to the disciples as in His response to the situation, His action, and even in His very presence there with them. He speaks first not to them but to the winds and waters, bidding them to be still, and in so saying brings the situation to peace. He does not just comfort those in terror, but acts to confront and calm that terror's causes. And note that the story is told from the disciples' perspective: "they took Jesus with them." Just the fact that He was there with them made the difference, He who has promised to be with the world to the very end of time.

This episode should inform our response as Christians to the tempests which assail the world - a pastoral response which goes beyond words, beyond telling people to have faith, cheer up or grin and bear it, but rather consists in being present with people in their need, and acting pre-emptively to bring calm and peace to the world. We are the body of Christ, imbued with His Spirit; we are His enduring presence in the storm and even the shipwreck, and our faith is to confront the violence, to travel amid it alongside anyone who suffers, and so to subdue it with His still, small voice of calm. God cares when we care. 

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