[Homily. July 16, 2014.]
When Jesus had left Nazareth but continued to live in Galilee, he lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. Not far away were two other cities, Chorazin to the north and Bethsaida to the south east. All of these three cities were centers where Jesus preached the Good News of the Kingdom of his Father. His notoriety began in these cities – through the clarity and passion of his preaching, and through the “signs” which gave witness to the truth of what he preached. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus’ signs: for instance, in the vintage wine called forth from simple water for the married couple of Cana, in the man whose withered hand was made whole, in the ten lepers who were made clean. In Bethsaida, Mark recalls how Jesus cured a blind man by using spittle and laying his hands on him (Mk 8:22-25). In Bethsaida, Luke narrates how Jesus, using but five loaves and two fish, fed a multitude (Luke 9:10-17). These were powerful signs, sources of special light, which should have enlightened the people’s encounter with Jesus and led them through repentance to “life to the full” (John 10:10). But they didn’t. They remained in their old ways, preferring their poverty, their sadness, their quarrels, their violence, their betrayals, their murders and slaughter, their depression.
So the Gospel today sees Jesus in an frustrated, angry mood, where he knows his message thwarted by the darkness that enveloped his stubborn listeners’ hearts, darkness because of a self-inflicted blindness, darkness untouched by powerful signs because of a choice not to be touched, a cynical refusal to be opened to the Love of the Father. “Woe to you, Chorazin and Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you they would have repented long ago in sackcloth.” Woe to you, Chorazin and Bethsaida, because if your had only listened to my words and to the Word within, and opened yourself to the light in the signs, your lives would have been less chaotic, less stressful, less hateful. You would have found happiness and peace.
Today, God may be saying something similar to us in our world: Woe to you, women and men of Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Brussels, Palestine, Jerusalem, Damascus, Manila and Davao! For if the mighty works done in you were done in Tyre and Sodom, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth.” Woe to you because with all of your education and rationality, your civilization and sophistication, your diverse ways of worshipping God, your diplomatic dances of peace and reconciliation, you continue to choose your ways of blood, suffering and death over my Father’s way of compassion and peace. You have not turned away from the violence of your wars, the fallacies of your logic, the folly of your ways. You refuse to see the signs. Today my signs of healing and life, of feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked, shed light on the grim outcomes of your ways. So the murderous rampages of children of God against children of God continue. You choose not to move away from your hateful killings and counter killings, the fearsome offensives, the surgical strikes and the barrel bombs, and the self-righteous deathly retaliations. With rockets launched into Israel to avenge the murders of Palestinians and bombs exploded in the midst of Palestinian cities in retaliation, with killer bands of Sunni rampaging against strongholds of Shia in Iraq, and both calling their wars “holy,” and both calling on Allah for guidance, strength and victory, when will the killing and blasphemy in the wars and proxy wars end? In Syria, the Russian-backed regime that employed chemicals to kill its own people is about to take Aleppo and crush the American-backed revolution. In Gaza, CNN reports, “one bomb fell on a center for the disabled. Another wiped out 18 members of the same family. By Monday [yesterday] the death toll from nearly a week of airstrikes on Gaza had reached 185 — all of them Palestinians.” The Israelis tell the Palestinians to leave. Hamas tells the Palestinians to stay. Where shall the Palestinians go as Israel bombs and occupies their homeland – as the world watches football?
What Jesus then said in anger and frustration rings true even today: Woe to you! You have failed to understand to the signs, to listen to my words and the Word within. Looking on Jerusalem then and today, Jesus wept (cf. Lk 11:25). The stress here is not on Jesus calling woe on inhabitants of our cities, but on his recoiling at how we work woe on ourselves, and his frustration that despite his labor and his signs we have not found the truth. In Mindanao today, where all the conditions of local wars fought as proxies to world powers obtain, and the possibility of more violence cannot be discounted, we must pray for the Spirit, the Light, to help us understand his signs and the signs of the times, and choose his way of peace. We have made much progress towards peace between Christians, Muslims and indigenous peoples. We are negotiating, we are hoping, we are waging peace. But today those prospects for peace with developments in Malacañan have suddenly become fragile. So let us continue to pray for peace, to choose peace, to insist on peace. Let us ourselves – in whatever way the Spirit moves us – become signs that the Lord’s Good News has been accepted, signs that we are willing to turn away from our sadness and violence, signs that we embrace the life that Jesus offers us: “life to the full.”