Elijah the prophet is famous for his determination to keep on looking for justice for his people, not because he had it all together himself nor because he wanted to prove he had the answers. He wanted to fulfil God’s will and never give up even when he became more aware of his own weakness and the constant opposition. I want to apply his insight to the Amnesty controversy. How do campaigners today continue seeking justice despite weakness and opposition? Here are three possibilities.
Comedians like the Hole in the Wall gang tell jokes to get to the heart of the issues. Three farmers entered a competition to find out who could cultivate the best harvest. One farmer was English, the other Scottish, and the third Irish. The Englishman spent so much time telling the others what to do that he never got round to beginning the job. The Scottish farmer hoarded up his grain shouting no surrender. The Irishman wasted his time telling everyone that nobody was going to tell him what to do. They all held on to their own prejudices. Someone said you can divide people here into two groups – those who start fights and those who keep the fights going. Smile at them and insist that Christians are meant to be different.
The second approach is from families directly involved who are entitled to keep seeking the truth, exposing prejudices in society even to the extent of state-sponsored criminality. To let perpetrators get off only encourages further bad behaviour. We Christians believe that the perpetrators will not get off forever. There will be a day of judgment.
The third group are people like ourselves, on the periphery. We can learn from today’s readings. Elijah is tempted to give up his faith-calling because he seems to be no better than anyone else. Then he has the vision of the angel of God who helps him to carry on. He realises that he can receive so much more help when he turns to God.
Inwardly we ourselves can feel quite inadequate, but that’s no real obstacle since the ordinary can be transformed. Outwardly all can seem to be hostile. But by seeking for what God wants we discover our true purpose in life and are able to go forward bravely and confidently.
The people who complain about Jesus in the gospel reading give up because they don’t think Jesus can make enough difference for them. They don’t yet recognise that Jesus has come down from God and will direct them to the Father. It couldn’t be better! By following Jesus and his commandment of loving our needy neighbour we can overcome outward hostility and inner failings or doubts.
St Paul is precise about the ways Christians might work practically: in the face of opposition followers of Christ do not bear grudges. They try not to lose their tempers or become spiteful even when others are constantly exasperating and it’s hard to forgive.
Jesus insists on first making the effort to listen to the word of God. Then you try to be practical, better informed and better equipped to help. You may not achieve exactly what you want and may not feel great about yourself but the secret is to keep striving as God wants. Jesus says he will be with you eternally, precisely because he makes the bridge between ordinary, everyday experiences in our small world and the wonderful gifts of God that last forever. He does not want victims to be paralysed by anger or resentment. Is it not possible that the sense of injustice will diminish when you try to do God’s will, when you support those close to you, when you make friends with Jesus on his way? Elijah, Paul and Jesus concentrated on the positive things people can do together. It’s good to support those who search for truth with Christian faith, hope and love.