At the time of Jesus there were many preachers wandering the countryside of Galilee and Judea. It seems they had one primary message; how to free the people from the oppression of Roman rule.
It is difficult for us to imagine the violence of the Roman Empire and the merciless murders carried out by those who ruled for the emperor. Remember the account of Herod, hearing that a ‘new king’ had been born? He ordered the death of every male child in Judea aged under two.
So the people were keen to hear from anyone who might lead a rebellion to free them from this violent rule. The preachers proposed a variety of techniques, but it seems that they all sought to fight wars for freedom and peace; that is to use the method of the Romans (violence and power) to effect their freedom from oppression.
And then one day, a new preacher appears on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine the reaction of the people when Jesus began his ministry with a message not of power and prosperity, but of peace, harmony and humility.
Among his first words in ministry he announced: “blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the meek, the humble, those who grieve and mourn, the peacemakers.” We know from today’s Gospel that “many who heard him were astonished”, and “they took offence at him.” (Mark 10)
Later he asked the Cardinal, ‘you looked reflective up there…what were you thinking?‘ The Cardinal responded: I was looking over the crowds in the square, across the Tiber, to the Circus Maximus and the Colosseum in the distance: once the centre of the Roman Empire. I was thinking to myself (the Cardinal continued), where are they now? Where is the great Roman Empire? It is gone. Where are the powerful Roman rulers who put Jesus to death? They are dead and buried? Where are their successors? They have no successors!
The Cardinal continued: ‘then I pondered, where are the followers of Jesus Christ (crucified by the Romans)? They are here in their hundreds of thousands in the square! Where is the successor of Peter the prince of the Apostles also put to death by the Romans? The successor of Peter is here – alongside me!’
It is all too easy to respond to anger with anger and to violence with violence. When someone speaks a harsh word to me, I seem to be programmed to reply in kind. The tragic history of the Roman Empire is testimony to the futility of such reactions.
The Romans appeared powerful – but they crumbled. More recently Nazi and Communist dictatorships have collapsed after brief and tragic shows of strength. There are ‘super-powers’ and powerful people in today’s world too. But we know that these too will inevitably come to the same fate.
This week many of the world’s scientists and leaders celebrated the ‘discovery’ of the (so-named) “God particle”. A number of commentators have read this finding as further proof that there is no God. Well good luck to them. They will need it!
I am not denying the significance of the discovery. This is a major step forward in the world of science. Humans have a basic need to learn about ourselves and our world. It is healthy and wise to seek such knowledge.
But human history also shows that such scientific advances are abused too often in the promotion of power, prestige and warfare, instead of being placed at the service of peace and justice.
Notice too that, at least from the news reports, you would think that we had created this ‘God particle.’ No. We have simply discovered what was always present. So who invented it? Ah, that is the question!
Let’s learn from history: what appears to be powerful and mighty in the sight of humans, is usually little more than a cosmetic job on personal human fears. We now know (thanks to good biographies) that this was the case with the Roman Emperors, and the Nazi and Communist rulers.
So how do we live with this reality of human weakness and fear? Thanks be to God, there is an answer!
Too often we are satisfied with glimpsing ‘particles’ of God In this way we feel that we can keep God at a safe distance. As long as we keep God under control then God will not threaten our complacency. And so we reduce the fullness of God present among us in Jesus.
I might be ok with Jesus as my mate, my friend. But the fact is, that Jesus is the fulness of God! Someone might wrongly think that the Eucharist is simply a ‘ritual sign’ meal. But the one who receives communion receives not a particle, but the fulness of God.
Today’s psalm is the key: Let us ensure that in every moment: “Our eyes are fixed on the Lord”. (Psalm 123)