I’m not sure if “ends of the earth” is meant to be interpreted geographically or metaphorically. Meaning if Jerusalem symbolizes life with God then the “ends of the earth” would symbolize life apart from God. Taken in that vein, I would say that today, in our society, the ends of the earth might be seen in racism, xenophobia, the effects of substance abuse, gun violence, the ever increasing wage and wealth gap, and in a society that fails our children by underfunding public school education, eliminating accessible health care, and depleting resources and services of the Department of Child Safety…
The joke of Easter morning was God’s. The joke was on the authorities who conspired against Jesus. The joke was on the Romans; the mightiest empire couldn’t keep down a peasant from Galilee! The joke was on death itself, the ultimate divide and “last enemy,” as the Apostle Paul called it, that ultimate reality over which no one has control.
This is a God who is present in suffering, who suffers with us, who has tastes human experience. This is a God whose heart breaks at injustice. This is a God who chooses to be in solidarity with all who are scared, excluded, oppressed, hurting, and ashamed. We don’t look at the cross and see a bloodthirsty God who needs to be appeased, who relishes the pain of God’s child out of some perverted sense of justice; we behold a God of compassion, literally “with-suffering.”
We humans like to speculate about the future; it’s in our nature. You can see it in the disciples’ anxiousness when they say: “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” But Jesus’ directed their gaze and directs ours to the present moment. “Look!” Christ urges us, “Look around you right now! Keep alert! Watch for the new thing I am doing. I am present in the midst of this tragedy and all of this mayhem. I know it’s hard to see, but keep your eyes peeled for how I am coaxing new life out of hopelessness.”
I think that’s why Jesus paired the two together, loving God and loving neighbor: one follows the other, and you can’t have one without the other. Maybe YOU can, but I can’t! I can’t love my neighbor on my own–not the people in my immediate vicinity or the person in need across the street–without help. Honestly, that’s one reason why I pray. I have to stay connected to God, to seek Jesus’ presence to live with an open and forgiving heart. I HAVE to cultivate my relationship with God because I cannot live compassionately or justly in the world without her grace.
There’s something subversive about Jesus’ brand of service, something that upsets the established order of things, otherwise his teachings, healings, and feedings wouldn’t have led to a cross: “Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” I think that when greatness is redefined, so are priorities. This brings to mind a quote by the Brazilian bishop, Dom Helder Camara, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”
Are wealth and possessions, in and of themselves, evil? Are we to hear his words as a directive to the rest of us? Is Jesus calling all of us to asceticism, to severe self-denial, chucking all we own? Are we, like the man in this story, when faced with the choice of being inducted into God’s reign or keeping what’s within our grasp, walking away dejected?
Although most of us might not have had a mystical experience on a street corner, there are those other times. Kind of like epiphanies, but not quite. There are the times when a previously hopeless situation shines with refreshed possibility. When, out of absolutely nowhere, you have a spark of insight that arises in the midst of ordinary circumstances. Or a fleeting moment when the scales fall from your eyes and you see what is truly important in life…
That’s the thing about prophets: they’re not provocative for provocativeness’ sake. They sense a Spirit-breathed call. That’s what gives them the courage, the conviction, the stamina. Firm trust in the loving justice of God fuels ordinary people to risk telling the truth. But that’s another aspect of being prophetic: the price. There’s always a price…
We are all called, wherever we are to, by our words and deeds, point the way toward the infinite compassion and peace that we find in the God revealed in Jesus. Like Jairus, faithful leaders realize that they cannot heal the world by themselves or bring hope to others by themselves. They are the ones who push through a laughing, cynical crowd saying, “No, death and despair never have the last word… and like the woman who had the tenacity to grab hold of Jesus’ tunic, leaders of this sort lead from their own struggle to find God in the midst of pain and confusion.