A person of courage and care

Courage. Image courtesy of pixabay.com

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ (Luke 13:31-35)

In 1956 the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Joseph Stalin as a brutal despot. In a sensational speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party Mr Khrushchev painted a graphic picture of a regime of suspicion, fear, and terror built up under the former dictator who died three years previously in 1953. He said he wanted to break the “Stalin cult” that has held Soviet citizens in its thrall for 30 years. The prime minister described the purges during the period of 1936-38. He implied that one of Stalin’s most trusted aides Kirov had been assassinated in 1934 at the leader’s behest. Stalin then initiated a series of show trials of members of the politburo and had some executed for Kirov’s murder, including Zinoviev, Kamenev and Rykov. Stalin meted out humiliation and persecution to those officers and members of the Politburo who fell from favour, said Mr Khrushchev. He revealed that in 1937 and 1938, 98 out of the 139 members of the Central Committee were shot on Stalin’s orders.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that during his speech someone in the audience shouted out, “And what did you do about this Comrade Khrushchev?” At that, Khrushchev looked down at the audience and asked: “Who said that? Would the man who said that please stand up?” No one moved and a fearful silence fell upon the gathered members of the Community Party. After a pause Khrushchev said, “Comrade, I did what you are doing now. I was afraid, so I kept silent.”

“I was afraid, so I kept silent.”

Jesus too lived in a totalitarian regime. It was dangerous. Herod Antipas had killed John the Baptist. He also wanted to kill Jesus. Why? The eastern flank of the Roman Empire was unstable. Herod was trying to maintain stability and security, and the last thing he wanted was a popular movement critical of the political and religious authorities. Herod was trying to maintain a balance between the demands of the Roman occupiers and the survival of Israel and its faith. People like John and Jesus brought unrest. It was in Herod’s interests to silence Jesus.

Jesus may have been afraid, but he did not keep silent. He responds: ‘Go and tell that fox, “Look I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow and I will be finished on the third day.”’

It would be like Khrushchev saying: “Go tell that fox Stalin that I condemn his purges.” It would mean instant death. But he did not speak out. What was Khrushchev’s actual response?

“I was afraid, so I kept silent.”

This is very dangerous for Jesus. Herod wants to kill him. We see a man of courage, not afraid to speak up.

Then we see another image of Jesus: he pictures himself as a hen gathering her brood under her wings. This is a deeply moving portrait of Jesus and God. It is a feminine, nurturing, caring image. So we have two aspects of Jesus’ character here:

  1. the courageous, confronting and truth-telling side; and
  2. the feminine, nurturing, caring side.

Mostly we tend to opt for one or the other. Actually we are called to embody both. Sometimes we called to be nurturing and caring, and sometimes courageous, confronting and truth-telling. Let us pray for the grace to know that aspects of ourselves and the wisdom to discern when to express them.

Fr Michael Smith SJ

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