Summary: How do we cope with our guilt feelings about things we can’t change in the world?
I have recently been feeling a little guilty about failing to renew my membership of Amnesty International. This feeling particularly strikes when I hear in the news of some injustice somewhere in a far flung corner of the globe. I suppose that if I was still in amnesty, I would still occasionally feel guilty, as there are always far more letters to send than I have time for sending. But at least I would feel a little less guilty than I do now when I hear of suffering that I do nothing to help change.
It was this feeling that sprang to mind when I read of Jesus’ action in today’s scripture reading. ‘When he heard that John had been arrested, Jesus withdrew to Galilee’. Mark says the same thing: ‘After John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God.’ According to the Gospel of John, it appears that Jesus decided to leave the area in the light of persecution. How can this be? It was only a short time before that John was publicly supported Jesus at his Baptism. How could Jesus the messiah be bringing a message of truth and justice when he did not stand up for his close relative when put into prison? Rather than lead some political protest scripture tells us that Jesus left the area and began his ministry of preaching and healing. What can we make of this?
In his life on earth, Jesus placed the Gospel of God as a task which comes before all else. He puts it before the demands of his mother and brothers, he puts it before his own need for solitude when the crowds wish to hear him, and ultimately puts it before his own life. Yet in the Gospel of John, Jesus refuses to follow the advise of his brothers on how to best publicize his work. The right time for me has not yet come. He was not some fanatical preacher who did not care for others. Yet unlike our attempts to live ‘the good life’, Jesus showed that God’s justice did not always follow what we understand by the word justice. So Jesus was not leaving John because he had no desire to help him but because John was carrying out John’s ministry and Jesus was following his. Indeed, it was the coming ministry of Jesus which John had come to proclaim. Announcing the coming, the preaching, and the baptising of Jesus was the reason behind John’s ministry. Jesus fulfilled this, not by seeking to free John from prison but by setting out on his ministry without delay.
So what does this say about my problem with amnesty international, or more generally, what can it say to the guilt we all can feel when we seem unable to help those we wish to, whether imprisoned in some foreign land or suffering ill-health nearby?
Rather than feeling guilty or powerless, Jesus’ example shows how we can continue to serve God by seeking his will in whatever situation we find ourselves in, placing our life before him in prayer, passing on the Gospel of God, what it means to know him and to be held by him,. We should not feel guilty that the world continues to turn, however difficult this may be at times. Jesus let John know that his mission was continuing, and to the crowds he declared, There is not a mothers son greater than John. He is far more than a prophet, he has prepared the way before me. Trusting that Jesus has prepared the way for us, we to can look to find his way in the days and weeks ahead.