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Disaster and Discipleship

Lectionary reflections for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (A)

By Rowan Smith

 

Readings for Epiphany 2, Year A, Jan. 16, 2005

Isaiah 49:1-7

1 Corinthians 1:1-9

John 1:29-42

 

The gospel that we set out to proclaim is a matter of living and that must be not only an ongoing experience but also a process of transformation of ourselves. So often we seem to focus on proclamation, and here we are being consistent with what Jesus told his disciples to do at the conclusion of the Gospel of St. Matthew, but we fail to pay serious attention to the process of conversion which entitles us to preach the gospel. It is by reflection, on a daily basis, on our lifestyle and living that we can judge whether we are indeed able to preach the gospel and that is making the values of God's kingdom our own before we preach to others.

The gospel reading sets out that process for us beginning with the testimony of John the Baptist, which is not about himself but about Jesus, and then leads to his pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God and thus his own disciples leave him to follow Jesus. First these disciples, one being Andrew, spend time with Jesus, “Come and see” is what they are told, and then Andrew feels able to introduce his brother Simon to the Messiah. This experience is life-changing for both of them, and Simon receives a new name: Peter, the rock.

What we need to realize, then, is that so often God acts outside of our perceived boundaries, and our interaction with other religions should acknowledge that God can choose who and how he wills to make himself known.

Epiphany is a time in which we are reminded that God chose to reveal himself to all the nations, and that it was astrologers, Magi from the east, whose reading of the stars led them to the Christ child. What we need to realize, then, is that so often God acts outside of our perceived boundaries, and our interaction with other religions should acknowledge that God can choose who and how he wills to make himself known.

Reports toward the end of last year revealed a rise in what is called “Islamaphobia,” and that this fear has often very little to do with the religion of Islam and more to do with politics –and especially how it is related to oil. We have seen that in Iraq and Iran what has been the driving force in the war has been control of the oil fields to the benefit of certain nations in the West. The gospel challenges us to take a fresh look at our attitude towards those of other religions and we need not lose our understanding and experience of the uniqueness of Christ.

But as we seek to identify with the disciples in their coming to know Jesus, we find ourselves today also having to reflect on our context in the light of the aftermath of the devastation caused by tsunamis in South Asia. How does this become good news to the thousands who have lost family and livelihood and for whom life can never be the same again? Already the old questions about how such a disaster equates with a God of love have been raised, and perhaps it is no bad thing to have to articulate our experience of the love of God in the midst of this pain.

How sad that it takes such a tragic event to remind us of our interdependence and the fragility of our world. But even worse, this has not been the response to the AIDS pandemic in Africa, as the world behaves as though it is the problem of Africa alone.

Newspaper articles have referred to questions raised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in which we are called not to doubt the existence of God but rather to question our easy answers and certainty in life or our desire for a scapegoat. The scientists tell us that tsunamis are occurring all the time, but rarely do we experience its force in this way. This is because our planet earth is indeed fragile and we live with many faults contained in it. It is also too simplistic to blame the number of deaths on the exploitation of the coastlines of the countries affected because elsewhere in the world the rape of our environment – like the rainforests, for example – continues unabated. How sad that it takes such a tragic event to remind us of our interdependence and the fragility of our world. But even worse, this has not been the response to the AIDS pandemic in Africa, as the world behaves as though it is the problem of Africa alone.

The gospel for today together with the New Testament reading remind us that we are called to be God's people, “dedicated to him in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2) which is a good place to begin this New Year 2005. With major elections in Iran and Palestine we need to remind ourselves of our vocation which is to be as Christ and that it is neither wealth nor power that we are to seek.

Those in leadership in the world community, who profess and call themselves Christians, should be reminded that our Christian discipleship arises from our being with Christ and imbibing the values of God's kingdom of justice, truth and love. St. Paul tells us that this call comes from God “who called you to share in the life of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. . .” and what we share actively in our communities of faith and with the world is that self-giving, altruistic, love of God. Many people, of many faiths and none, have displayed such altruism in response to the devastation in South Asia, and to those then who ask where God is in all this, we are able to say “Come and see.” What they will see is the love of God made flesh, in bodily form, through ordinary women and men who are simply being truly human or as we would say in Africa, displaying “ubuntu.”

Discipleship is a process of daily transformation through the Holy Spirit whose task it is to reveal the Christ in us. Wherever we may find ourselves in this year 2005 we must remind ourselves that proclaiming Christ is not only a matter of words but of deeds and God empowers us for this task to be “a light to the nations so that my salvation may reach earth furthest bonds” (Isaiah 49:6b).

 

The Very Rev. Rowan Q. Smith is the dean of St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. He may be reached by email at sgcdean@icon.co.za .