In the formation of the New Testament Paul’s letters came first. The gospels were written some years later. They recounted the works and teachings of Jesus and gave an account of his passion, death and resurrection. The early Christian communities had been mulling over Jesus’ teaching for a number of years seeking to integrate them into the reality of their own lived experiences.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he reminds them that they have been gifted with faith in Jesus Christ. He reminds them “take yourselves brothers and sisters, at the time when you were called how many of you were wise in the ordinary sense of the word, how many of you were influential people, or came from noble families? No it was to shame the wise that God chose what was foolish by human reckoning and to shame what is strong that God chose the weak by human reckoning. Those the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones God has chosen – those who are nothing at all, to show up those who are everything.”
This reality of which Paul writes might be part of the reflection in today’s Gospel, part of the reality of the community to which John wrote his gospel. “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to mere infants, such was your gracious will.”
I read a commentary on today’s gospel and I’d like to pass some of that commentary on to you.
Jesus thanks his Father, ‘Lord of heaven and earth*rsquo; because the Father is truly in charge of human existence, of all creation. God is our patron, our godfather. In the Mediterranean world a patron is one who takes someone under his care and protection and treats that person as if he or she were family. But who are the ones the Father has chosen for his special care and protection? Who are the Father’s favourites? Infants. Not literally so but men and women, who like infants, are simple and powerless, men and women who are unable to do or obtain anything for themselves, without outside help.
This commentator maintains that, at the time of Jesus and really for centuries afterward and in our own time, children were the weakest and most vulnerable members of society.
About 30 percent died at birth or soon after. Thirty percent of live births died by the age of six. Sixty percent did not live past their sixteenth birthday. They had little status within the community or family, and until the age of maturity, the child was considered equal to a slave. In a famine, the elder would be fed before the children.
Jesus tells us in today’s gospel that it is the “powerless” the infants who are the primary objects of his Father’s patronage, the Father’s love and care. God prefers them over the wise and the powerful who often feel they are quite capable of taking care of themselves.
During his life on earth Jesus always reached out to the infants he met, the widow the orphan, the poor, the lame and the blind, people we call the marginalized of our society.
We all know the great commandment, the new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We all know that our lives will be judged by who we were and how we were to one another. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, I was sick and in prison and you came to me – as often as you did these things to one these least of my brothers and sisters you did them to me. Another way of saying this could be, ‘I was an infant, powerless and needy and you were my patron – you were there for me.’ I believe that what is said to us as individuals is also said to us as church and as a society.
This weekend we celebrate Canada Day, we celebrate ourselves as a nation, as a society. Who do we ‘patronize’ as a society, who do we care for and favour? Who are the ‘infants’ the powerless of our society? How do we care for them? These are important questions as we examine our moral and spiritual health as a people. Do we really care about the living conditions of the peoples of our First Nations, men, women and children, who are without proper housing and safe drinking water and employment? Or do we believe the government is codling the families living on Reserves, wasting the taxpayers money? Are we influenced by the xenophobia of politicians who push for tightening our immigration laws, lulling us into forgetting we are all boat people? Are we in favour of bringing back the chain gangs as opposed to rehabilitation programs for men and women in our jails?
Do we support federal or provincial government programs that call for cutbacks or curtailments for cultural or social programs? How willing are we to support food banks? Are we concerned about the working poor or families on welfare?
These are questions we as Christian Canadians should be asking ourselves this Canada Weekend. These questions shouldn’t dampen our celebration but they could make our celebration more authentic because they challenge our concern for the ‘infants’ of Canada.
At the end of the Mass we’ll be singing the hymn O God of All the Many Lands and in that hymn we will be praying “may justice here belong to all and may our nation play its rightful role in fostering peace, the peace for which we pray – may we be worthy of our land and seek the common good which shapes a future destiny in world and neighbourhood.”
Having said all this I must say you good people of St. Gabriel’s have been wonderful in your support of Share Life and all the people it helps. You have been generous in the different appeals that come our way, especially our appeal from Haiti; you constantly support the work of the Good Shepherd Centre and Rosalie Hall and the St. Vincent de Paul, our food and clothing drives. In all these you give witness to a sense of social justice, you show your concern for the ‘infants’ of society.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass and this Canada weekend we pray for Canada, a nation made up of the peoples of our First Nations and peoples from many nations. We pray for ourselves that we always to willing to reach out, support and protect the ‘infants’ of our country, the men, women and children who need our help. May we always hear the words of Jesus, “as often as you these things to the least of mine, you did them to me.”