Reflection on the Seventh Sunday of Easter
Robert McAfee Brown, in a talk given five years after the end of the Vietnam War, said, “Where we stand determines what we see. Who we listen to determines what we hear. What we see and hear determines our actions and who we are.”
He went on to say that as educated and privileged Americans we needed to stand with the poor, listen to the poor and unprivileged and take action to make a difference.
Many of us have experienced standing with the poor, speaking out against injustice and spending our lives trying to make a difference. And we know well how important it is to stand where we can see from another’s perspective and listen to those who speak of God’s presence and call in a very polarized and sometimes crazy world today.
In the first reading, Stephen, filled with the Spirit, has a vision and seeks to share God’s message. But the crowd, who stood with Saul and didn’t want to hear Stephen’s message, cried out in a loud voice and covered their ears so that they did not have to listen to Stephen. Their loyalty to Saul required them to listen only to his message and block out dissenting voices. And it led them to stone Stephen to death. And Stephen, throughout his ordeal, continued to focus on God’s presence and even prayed that God would not hold the sins of his murderers against them.
Unfortunately, we don’t have to look too far to see that same thing happening in our day. And we see ruthless leaders who make sure their people can only hear their voice and not any voices of dissent and information.
The reading from Revelations speaks of John’s experience listening to the voice of Jesus and proclaiming him to be like the bright morning star. It is through the light and life of Jesus that John sees everything, and that makes all the difference. He also speaks of those who want to receive the life-giving water that Jesus provides. Where we stand today we understand more and more deeply how precious God’s life-giving gifts of air, water and earth are to each of us and to future generations. And we take actions to preserve those precious gifts and make sure all of God’s creation has access to those gifts. We listen to the voice of Earth and her people as they cry out today.
And all of this leads to the Gospel reading where Jesus prayed that the world would believe in God, all believers would be one and there would be this incredible unity among all people and with God. Jesus wants everyone to live in God’s love, hear the voice of the Divine and use that as the guide for their actions and choices. It is a beautiful image and a sharp contrast to the reality we see today.
Christians have a wide diversity of views on many topics, and God would be hard pressed at times to say, “See how they love one another.” The voice of God has to compete with some pretty powerful voices in our world today who are seeking to be the one and only voice that many will hear and follow. Tolerance and respect seem to be on the decline. Compassion and compromise seem almost impossible some times.
In sitting with these readings I became more aware of my own choices. Where do I stand to see and comprehend what is happening today? What voices do I listen to and what voices do I exclude? In some cases I do think it is my very real attempt to listen to those who seem to embody God’s presence and dismiss those who speak from a place of power, greed, fear, vengeance and distrust. At other times I think I try to tune out the voices that may have something disconcerting or uncomfortable to say.
I am reminded of my own need to listen with an open heart and mind. That can sometimes leave me in a place of longing and uncertainty. I try to listen to the voice of the Church because it connects me to the Scriptures and the many followers of Jesus. But I also know that what I hear sometimes makes little sense in light of the Gospels and my lived experience. It is also important for me to listen to the voices of the poor, the persecuted and the marginalized who can be the embodiment of Jesus today. And I find myself at odds with those who claim to be Christian and pro-life who support the death penalty, nationalism and disregard for our neighbors, and who seem to have little interest in children and families who are homeless, refugees, hungry and without adequate health care and education. I cannot reconcile these things in my heart and mind.
And so I am called to continue to listen, to pray and to discern. And each of us are called to do these things daily – together and alone – to plant our feet where we can see what God is showing us and hear what God is saying to each of us. It is certainly not an easy task today, but it is much more doable and empowering when it is done in and with a community of believers.