I’m normally a bit of a news freak. I tune in to the news first thing in the morning to find out what’s going on in the world. Recently, however, I find that I’m not so keen to find out what’s going on. All the news seems to be bad news. Refugees are dying, extremists are launching random attacks and the world seems to be in turmoil.
At times like these people often ask where God is in it all. Surely God is on our side? When is he going to step in and ‘smite the wicked’? This thought is not new. Those of us of a certain age may remember the poet Bob Dylan (I hesitate to call him a singer) tackling this question in his song, “With God on our side”. For those of you too young to remember I’ll summarise.
In the First World War God was on our side against the Germans. The same in the Second World War In the cold war God was now on the German’s side. God seems to be a bit fickle in Bob’s mind. He finishes up by concluding that if God’s on our side he’ll stop the next war.
Well the wars have continued to rage on since Bob wrote that in the sixties. So why do we think God is on our side? According to scripture God called Abraham and made a covenant with him. He would be our God and we would be his people. God would be on our side. Of course Abraham was the founder of the Jewish people so God is on the side of the Jewish people and through them to the Christians. The Islamic people are also spiritual descendants of Abraham so God is on their side too.
Now Jesus came to complete the covenant. In Christianity we have the true covenant and so God must really be on our side, surely. The big problem with that is that many of our wars have seen Christians pitted against Christians. So whose side is God really on? It surely must be our side because we are the good guys.
We Christians are the followers of Jesus. In fact we claim to be part of the Mystical Body of Christ. Now you can’t get much closer than that so we must be the good guys with God on our side. That still leaves the question of what God is going to do to our enemies and when He is going to do it.
It’s still a puzzle so I decided to look at it from another direction. How do we know we are the good guys? We must be the good guys if we follow the example of Jesus. Jesus taught us to love our neighbour – even if he is our enemy. In short, Jesus came to save everyone. God is on everyone’s side. As Bob Dylan put it
But I can’t think for you
You’ll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
“With God on our side”. Bob Dylan
When the news is all bad it is useful to remember that the news is not the whole story. It is just a sample of what is going on in a chaotic world. We are reminded in this Jubilee Year of Mercy that we have to let the voice of God speak through the clamour of a complex world. His Holiness Pope Francis recently spoke of Benedictine Monasteries being oases of mercy. They allow God to speak amid the deafening and distracted lifestyle of today’s world.
I don’t live in a monastery. I’m out here in this deafening clamour of a modern world. How am I supposed to let the voice of God speak out? The Holy Father also spoke recently on the occasion of the Canonisation of Saint Theresa of Calcutta. He held he up as an example of a single person who worked to let God’s voice be heard in her actions.
Mother Theresa, as she was known, was heavily criticised for her failures. She failed to do anything to cure the people in her care; she just let them die in dignity. She failed to tackle the root causes of poverty but just lived with the poor. These criticisms say more about the critics than they do about Theresa. In failing to cure the root causes of poverty this one woman failed just as every government in the world failed. In living with the poor and being with them in death she threw a spotlight on the failures of a rich world.
If Theresa, one woman, can have such an impact then surely we too can play our part. What can I do, alone in the face of a hostile world? Of course, I’ve got it wrong. I’m not alone. God is on my side. He is there ready to help me face up to my worst enemy. Who would that be, my worst enemy? Is it ISIS? Is it the capitalist world? No, it’s only me. I’m my worst enemy.
I’m the one who lets doubts undermine my resolve to follow Christ’s example. I’m the one who refuses to see Christ in every other human being. I’m the one who allows myself to be deluded by the world into thinking that the simple message of Jesus to love my neighbour might not always apply – especially to an enemy.
I’m the one who can’t see that Jesus never saw an enemy. He was opposed by many and killed for his message but He died for the sinners who opposed Him. This is the real message I take from this Year of Mercy. It’s not about forgiving people. It’s not about letting others get away with things. I think the Year of Mercy is about changing how we see each other.
I’m writing this on a very early Sunday morning. In six hours I’ll be at Mass and sharing the sign of peace with those around me. I won’t go round the whole church shaking hands with every other person. Not only would that take too long but it would miss the point. In sharing the sign of peace with those beside me I’ m symbolising the sharing of God’s peace with everyone. Not just everyone in the church for that Mass, but everyone.
I must confess that I’d never considered that I was sharing God’s peace with every other human being. I’ve been missing the point all these years. This should be a symbolic statement of what I’m going to do in the world. My outlook must change. Every day must be an occasion for me to allow God’s voice to be heard through my attitude to others and my actions. Just like Saint Theresa, I need to see through the bad news, the political posturing and the negative propaganda to the simple truth of Christ’s message.
Of course I don’t know how to go about this. I’m not smart enough to figure this out for myself. Fortunately I don’t have to. I’m not alone in this. I have God on my side. What I really need to do is to listen to Him. Listen for that quiet voice every day. I don’t need to look for opportunities to help my fellow human beings. God will point them out.