Imagine this! You happen to drive by your parish and people are gathering around a podium in the parking lot. Above the podium there is a sign that says “Today’s the Day! The Revolution Begins!” You quickly pull your car over and as you approach the area your pastor or pastoral leader takes the microphone and addresses the crowd by saying: “Christian stewards: We have been sent an urgent and most important message from Pope Francis.” An email is held up and read. “The Son of God, by becoming flesh has summoned us to the revolution of tenderness!” (The Joy of the Gospel, 88.)
The speaker continues: “Brothers and sisters, in light of this message from the Holy Father, please go home and gather your blessings, your special gifts and talents, your treasure, your compassion and heart of extravagant generosity and return here. Also, please bring your calendars. We’re going in!”
This image was playing in my head (I can only give back to God what he gave me) as I continued my summer pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Jesuit Fr. James Martin. His book, “Jesus, A Pilgrimage,” is insightful, educational and formational. Fr. Martin helps us to understand Jesus not only from the vantage point of the Gospels but also in light of his culture and times in which he grew up and carried out his mission. The lenses through which he sees Jesus are thought-provoking, realistic and inspiring.
One particular chapter is dedicated to the town of Nazareth and discusses what Jesus’ life might have been like in this first-century community. He reflects particularly on the hidden years of Jesus’ childhood through young adulthood. The question became: How might the early years of Jesus’ life have influenced his ministry? Fr. Martin uses the quotation from Luke (2:52), “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor,” in considering the answer.
I was particularly drawn to the section addressing what Jesus’ experiences in everyday life might have led to his very vocal and revolutionary stance for the poor and marginal. For whatever reason, perhaps because it is only written about in Scripture, it is easy to assume that Jesus’ eyes were only opened when he officially began his public ministry. We do know however, that his powerful support and response came during this ministry.
Fr. Martin makes the point that Jesus, being fully human like you and me, would have encountered injustice and witnessed great poverty during the early years. Fr. Martin states: “He would have seen how the class system forced many poor people to see themselves as powerless.” Like you and me, he would have asked questions, exhibited sadness and felt compassion. Jesus also belonged to a tight-knit and supportive religious circle that cared for each other.
I wonder if you and I as followers of Jesus experience the same sensitivity and exhibit a Christ-like response to poverty and injustice though we might not be living it ourselves. Are our hearts touched as an individual and as a parish community when we read the newspaper or watch the news on TV? Are we growing in wisdom as we age? Are we willing to join in a “revolution of tenderness” in word and action?
In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis gives us specific directions for increasing our awareness: “For just as some people want a purely spiritual Christ, without flesh and without the cross, they also want their interpersonal relationships provided by sophisticated equipment, by screens and systems which can be turned off on command. Meanwhile, the Gospel tells us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others, with their physical presence which challenges us, with their pain and their pleas, with their joy which infects us in our close and continuous interaction” (88).
Face-to-face encounters were Jesus’ reality growing up as well as during his public ministry. What I am hearing from Pope Francis today, however, is an urgency for you and me to discard our lukewarm response to the marginalized and join the Christ-led revolution of tenderness which begins in awareness and faithfulness and ends in generosity.
There are so many opportunities for you and me to be part of this tenderness movement. Oftentimes the Holy Spirit nudges us when we are reading the newspaper or watching the TV news. If you feel that same nudge multiple times, know you are being recruited and take notice. Perhaps that is what Jesus was experiencing in the Hidden Years.
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.