The readings today might lead us to ask the question: What do we do in difficult times? Nehemiah is in exile - far away from home - his past life is literally in ruins. Jesus is experiencing potential followers who are reluctant to follow him. They delay, are too attached to something or someone, or are just not ready to respond freely.
Sound familiar? I think these are difficult times for many of us. I can't count the number of times I've heard people tell me how much they long for days which were more trouble free. I find myself, as I age, that I've looked back at times to former periods of my life which were less complicated, when I had more control of my faculties, when there was less conflict and people seemed to get along better.
Sadly, I've also heard, as most of us have, the stories of so many people who are struggling in this global economic downturn - people who have lost their job, have trouble keeping up with their house payments or rent. We've all heard about, and experienced, a progressive breakdown in values we used to just assume were part of a healthy culture around us: people aren't so sure about what's right and wrong; some have lost confidence in Church leaders; parents question what happened to their adult children's values; consumerism and individualism seem to have conspired to create a culture of selfishness and disregard for our common responsibility for the most vulnerable in our society. Who hasn't seen or experienced the temptation to blame God for all this?
I recently suggested to someone that it might be more likely that God is sadder about all this than any of us imagine and that God really wants to support us, comfort us in these struggles, and then wants to send us to be in the midst of all of this mess with love - actually loving others as we have been loved. The person seemed very surprised and said, "I never thought of it that way. I guess I've been clinging to an image of God from my childhood, hoping God would make everything easy for us all the time and protect us from the foolishness and sinfulness of others."
Today, let us examine ourselves in terms of the challenges we face and our relationship with God. How is Jesus inviting us to respond? Let's ask for the graces to respond freely - with hope and confident trust - each day, in the concrete situations in which we find ourselves. Sometimes the call will be in terms of how quickly and lovingly we respond to the people closest to us. Sometimes we will be asked to participate, pitch in, contribute in some way to building a community of people positively responding to those in need.
Nehemiah got out of his sadness by getting up and going to a ruined Jerusalem and re-building it. Jesus' first disciples, filled with the gift of his Spirit, proclaimed the Good News of his ongoing presence among us, and gave their lives to being for others. May we not be deaf, or even reluctant, to respond to his call today.
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