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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
In a recent essay Amanda Gorman explained why she almost declined the invitation to be the inaugural poet last January. President Biden’s inauguration came right after domestic terrorists attacked the Capitol and she feared for her life. She wrote how she would “become highly visible — which is a very dangerous thing to be in America, especially if you are Black and outspoken and have no Secret Service.” She was terrified!
There is so much to fear in the world right now it is hard to focus on the joys, the delights, the serendipity, the small and often unexpected treasures that help us cope with discouragement and despair. Gorman continued: “I look at fear not as cowardice, but as a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear.”
What would it be like to live in an ideal world where power-hungry governments did not encroach on neighbor nations; where the resources of a wealthy country were distributed evenly to sustain the underclass?
Can we imagine a world where borders would open up to welcome people haunted and hunted by autocratic authorities, and where the practice of restorative justice would eliminate the privatized prison industry?
What if Jews, Uyhgurs, the Rohingya, Gypsies, Christians, the LGBTQIA community, and persons of color, around the world would not have to fear being ostracized, injured, or killed just because of who they are?
Today’s reading from the first book of Corinthians (12:12-14, 27) includes a line famously found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28): “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Biblical scholar Karin Neutel examined the apostle Paul’s vision for living together in an ideal society: “Paul expected an imminent cosmic change, a new creation ushered in by the death and resurrection of the Messiah.”
Paul’s three categories were expressions of first century expectations for utopian societies. Neutel noted that Paul’s contemporaries pictured “different peoples living together in one homogeneous group under one law — without ethnic distinction … living as equals … removing major causes of social conflict.”
Today we add more categories to Paul’s list. There is neither black nor white nor brown, gay nor straight, rich nor poor, healthy nor sick, transgender nor cisgender, all are equal creatures of God.
Paul imagined all peoples living under this Christian ideal. He preached not only to Jews but also Gentiles and saw baptism as a unifying experience. Paul’s mission was to make all peoples disciples of Christ and he frequently reminded his audiences of his own conversion.
Today, our dream for a peaceful planet extends beyond any one faith tradition or belief in dogmas. Our approach is broader and urgent. The development of one’s spirituality and the desire to live without fear are fueled by a feverish trepidation and a human yearning for peace and justice.
Imagine if the city or town you lived in was totally destroyed not by extreme weather conditions (fires, floods, tornadoes) but by dictators and terrorists. This has happened all too often in history. One example is reported in today’s first reading from the book of Ezra/Nehemiah (8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10).
Biblical scholar Tamara Cohn Eskenazi remarked that after their exile the Israelites “faced an overwhelming challenge: rebuilding not merely their homeland but their very identity as a people and a religion.” Yet in a short 50-years after their exile they experienced an incredible rebirth.
Cohn-Eskenazi noted the entire community was responsible for the restoration; and that the presence of God, they believed, was not limited to the restored temple building but it encompassed the entire city of Jerusalem.
In the gospel (Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21) the author wrote about the connection between Jesus and Isaiah “to bring glad tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free.” Jesus would become the One the Israelites were waiting for.
We too take our place in a long line of advocates for justice and peace. We respond to “a call forward, a summons to fight for what we hold dear.” We join with people of many faiths  and those who practice no religion at all to work together to create what we imagine to be an ideal world.
1. This weekend is the conclusion of this year’s Week of Prayer for Church Unity.