Today’s reflection is by guest contributor Mark Hakes (they/them), the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry and Director of the Youth Theology Institute at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Their work is focused on helping students delve into spirituality, engage in service and justice work, and participate in discernment of identity, values, and vocation.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” (Lk 12:35-36)
I’m going to start today by telling you something you already know: our society is polarized.
In nearly every aspect of our lives, from our political system to our church, we have created false dichotomies, erecting “us versus them” scenarios. We insist that “we” are right which can only mean that “they” are wrong. These constructed divisions often come at the expense of those most marginalized in our society; i.e. LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, etc.
Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to turn on the television without being bombarded with these divisions: Republicans and Democrats, liberal and conservative, leftist or alt right.
Or how about progressive Catholic and traditionalist Catholic, guitar lovers and those with a preference for the piano or organ, the smells and bells of traditional high church liturgy and the sandeled, “come as you are” casualness of contemporary worship, Gregorian chant and contemporary music, those who welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics and those who exclude the community.
Instead of seeing the vast and multifaceted diversity of thought, practice, and experience as a great divine gift, how often do we shut those we don’t agree with out of our lives, our circles, our church?
We are so focused on who is right that we often forget to simply do what is right.
Today’s Gospel reading and its call to “gird your loins” always makes me giggle and think of Nigel (played by Stanley Tucci) from the Devil Wears Prada telling everyone to gird their loins in preparation for the arrival of the domineering Miranda Priestley (played by Meryl Streep). Suddenly, everyone is running around doing the work (or are at least pretending to be doing the work) they were supposed to do, hopeful that Miranda will not notice the ways they had been slacking off.
While we don’t have the benefit of Stanley Tucci daily preparing us to meet the risen Christ in our daily lives, we at least know what we should be doing. To paraphrase Isaiah 58, God says: “I want you to share your bread with the hungry, open your homes to the homeless poor, remove the yoke of injustice, let the oppressed go free.”
But the Way of Jesus compels us to go further, to see the injustices present in our community, to recognize the oppressive structures that cause people to go hungry, to experience homelessness, to endure prejudicial treatment—and then to begin dismantling them. The Way of Jesus demands that we stand in solidarity with our trans* siblings, put our bodies where our mouths are when we say that Black Lives Matter, link arms with Indigenous communities to stop the continued exploitation of their land and lives, provide sanctuary to and fight for the rights of undocumented people.
And yet, how many of us are doing this work and how many of us have abdicated our responsibilities? As bell hooks wrote “…I have encountered many folks who say they are committed to freedom and justice for all even though the way they live, the values and habits of being they institutionalize daily, in public and private rituals, help maintain the culture of domination, help create an unfree world.”
When we meet Jesus, both at the end and in our daily encounters with Christ in the people and world around us, will we be found doing what we should be doing? Or will we be found bickering about who is right while remaining complicit in upholding systems of marginalization and oppression? Will we be found celebrating the rainbowed array of people, embracing each as a holy human being regardless of gender/gender expression or sexual orientation? Or will we be found to be building walls of division and exclusion? This Gospel reading is not meant to be a cozy, pat-yourself-on-the-back reading but an uncomfortable call to action. As Children of Light, we are given the essential task of allowing God’s love to overwhelm us, revealing our blessedness, and then to let it overflow into the world doing all that is within our power to uncover the hidden shatters of light around us.
And so today, when we encounter Jesus in one of the many “incarnations” of daily life, may our loins be girded and may we each be found doing the work of liberation we have been tasked to do.
—Mark Hakes (they/them), August 7, 2022