Ecclesia of Women in Asia

Forum of Asian Catholic Women Theologians

Asian Women Theologians (Homily during the Opening Liturgy of EWA 3, January 21, 2007)

by Fr. Clement Waidyasekara omi

In today’s gospel Luke specifies that Jesus went to the Nazareth synagogue “on the Sabbath day, as was His custom”. Luke, who places great stress on Jesus as being in total conformity with the Jewish faith and the Hebrew Scriptures, emphasizes Jesus as a faithful and devout Jew who, like his fellow villagers, habitually took part in the local Sabbath services and prayers. It is also worthwhile to underscore yet again Jesus’ full insertion (on a human level) into the Jewish community. Jesus’ Jewishness is not an accident of history that can be brushed aside, but is a result of the Incarnation; it is in Jewish flesh that God’s Son became incarnate, and this has obvious theological consequences that we must not obscure or ignore. Jesus was a faithful son of Israel.

The specific reading chosen by Jesus from Isa 58:6 and 61: 1-2 is one traditionally associated with the practice of the Jubilee Year, which (according to the prescription of Lev 25) was to be observed in Israel every 15th year – a time of celebration, freedom and liberation from the burdens of work, debt and slavery, a time to rejoice in the natural abundance of the soil, and to restore to their land those who had been separated from it for whatever reason. Slaves were to be set free, debts and slavery, a time to rejoice in the natural abundance of the soil, and to restore to their land those who had been separated from it for whatever reason. Slaves were to be set free, debts cancelled, and those who had lost their property or their status in the community were to be restored to their rightful place. It was a time of restoration, renewal and “re-ordering” of society, such that no one could be marginalized, oppressed or exploited forever. In the context of Isaiah’s prophecy, it was likely a prophecy of the renewal. The coming of the Messianic Era was described in mystical terms inspired by the Jubilee (the “year of the Lord’s favour”), the Messiah himself would be the one to inaugurate this new age of peace, safety, good health and prosperity. The “greatest of the all Jubilee year” are new fulfilled in your very presence, that is, I myself am the Messiah who has come to begin this time of blessing and healing. In other words, I have come to inaugurate a time in which healing, renewal and mercy will be poured out extravagantly, in new and unprecedented ways. Dear friends, this is the time to bring healing.

It is very interesting that as many exegetes have noted, Jesus reads only the first half of verse 2, omitting the second half; the full verse reads: “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…” Jesus’ proclamation here is entirely “good news,” and He seems not to focus on the aspect of vengeance or judgement, stopping just before these words. It is not that Jesus will completely avoid all talk of judgement, or of the implications of God’s justice must be seen within the broader context of God’s intended healing, compassion and mercy. Jesus has come primarily as Saviour, Healer and Teacher, rather than as a strict or harsh Judge.

Perhaps the most constant failure of Christians is our reluctance to take our own Gospels seriously and entirely. A question much ignored these days is whether our faith has nothing to do with justice, economics, capitalism, poverty, or other socio-political issues. We have gambled between the world of faith and the world of “real” issues. As a result, we never have to worry about changing our behaviour or confronting our culture… A politics engaged in by men and women of faith is a politics shaken and transformed by faith. We make Jesus’ words real, we make our faith real, only if we allow it entry into our real world. That is the world of life and love, of people in society, of nations, of economies. Without that entry, Jesus’ ministry is enfeebled.

You as women theologians have a greater role to play in the society and in the church. Jesus depicts himself as a wounded healer. You women are very much gifted with natural gifts as women, to heal the wounded world.

There are various kinds of woundedness and brokenness in the world and particularly in Asia. Some wounds are caused by events in one’s personal history, others by unjust structures and systems which are imposed on people, especially the poor. Cultural and racial prejudices and dominance create boundaries, cause rejection of the other, and results in violence and war. The irresponsible use of earth’s resources, their unjust distribution, and pollution of environment threaten all life on earth. Human are wounded in various ways. Many issues have been highlighted in the daily paper, both secular and religious, namely social (poverty, justice, youth, women, children, minority), cultural (inculturation, modernisation, post modernization), religion and their structure (witness, spirituality, dialogue) and so on. All these are interrelated, taken together; they amount to a crisis of survival.

We need to understand the critical importance of the present time and to hear what God is calling us to do, remembering that all time are embraced in the hour of Jesus. God calls us through people’s crying needs. People are searching for meaning and survival. What should be our vision and effective response in midst of the wounded world? We are called to be a healing presence at the heart of a wounded world. Wounded and broken humans are in need of healing – we care, God heals. We speak of a time of ‘concern’ in the society, a moment of history opening out both danger and opportunity.

The new world vision that has been envisaged especially in today’s gospel passage, is founded on the compassion and the mercy of the Father for the growth of joy and hope and the removal of grief and anguish.

We are fully aware that the transformation of the world today has to begin with the renewal of the inner being of persons. This restoration of the image of God as reflected in the human being, living with human dignity and with the freedom to exercise human rights is what will result in the common good of humanity. As a Church in Asia we recognise the urgent task to build a new Spirituality of Communion that will lead us to redefine the meaning of the fundamental task of the Church to be at the service of the Reign of God.

There is urgency in the theological world for renewal of the sense of mission. This will also require a renewal of our motivations for mission. We evangelise, first of all, from the deep sense of gratitude to God, the Father “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3). That is why it is so important for us to have a deep faith-experience of the love of God of Christ Jesus, that love has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5). Without a personal experience of this love received as a gift of mercy, no sense of mission can flourish.

The success of any mission as theologians depends on the authenticity of the theologian’s own relation to God, of the coherence between the word spoken or heard and the work that is lived. Any vision of mission in today’s world must arise from the point of its victims – the poor, the marginalized and the oppressed. They are the mediators of the challenging demands of the Good News. The poor make us to have a new reading of the gospel uniting faith and life. Our mission should be to offer an alternative way of living in the world. It is difficult in today’s world, for theologians and pastoral workers to remain fixed on a certain type of ministry, without continuously raising new questions. Hence there is a need for flexibility, mobility and adjustment.

Option for the poor and marginalized does not happen merely out of compassion. But rather, it is much more a spiritual choice to follow Christ who himself identified with the poor and the suffering. It is not the choice for the poor, but also a choice to be poor oneself and to struggle with the poor. It is not a political or strategic choice, but follows Mary’s experience that she was chosen in her loneliness and powerlessness to discomfort the strong. It is the knowledge that violence cannot be overcome with counter-violence, but with the power of truth and love. It is to stand up for the truth. It is the option for a counter-culture.

Thus as theologians, we must be among the prophetic rather than legitimising element in the church. When our theological endeavours are not people-centered but becomes institutionalised in some way and related to political and other institutions, then it seems to lose the prophetic intensity and earnestness of the Good News. The most pressing sign of the time for us as Asian is “to take the crucified people- poor in their many faces –down from the cross”. Will you take this challenge and allow yourself to be leaven in the masses, remain true to your convictions as healers.

The future belongs not to those who respond to it but to those who create it. Not what you own, but what you project. It’s no longer the cost, but the courage that counts. What is needed are charisma, courage, vision and passion. Could these be generated within our own circle of theologians? If not, why not?

Amen.

Clement Waidyasekara omi

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