Bishop Jason Gordon of Bridgetown preached the following homily at a July 8 ecumenical service during the G20 Summit in Germany.
I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God. Ezek 36:26 – 28
Our reading is a bold call from God to the restoration of the people. It speaks of a new heart and a new spirit. An exchange of our stony heart for a heart of flesh. This is an eloquent call for hope at the lowest ebb of Israel.
Ezekiel was a prophet living and ministering during the Babylonian captivity. He lived through what seemed like God’s utter rejection of the people of Israel. Seeing them every day without access to the temple, living in a foreign land subjected to foreign culture and rule. It was as if God declared that He was no longer the God of Israel. Every hope that Israel had was dashed to the ground. This was the Babylonian captivity.
‘The Babylonian captivity’ may well be a metaphor describing the state of the Christian Church in western civilisation today. We are not physically exiled, but spiritually and psychologically, we are living in a culture that has different values, customs and vision than the Christian Church. We live like exiles in our own lands. This shift to a post-Christian world in the west, has brought significant moral, social and environmental challenges.
Pope Francis has challenged this moral decay in his speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements 2015. The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind.
Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society; it condemns and enslaves men and women; it destroys human fraternity; it sets people against one another; and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.
A new heart
The great moral crisis that we face today is precisely in the heart of the human – our capacity to evolve morally to keep pace with all the scientific advancements that we have experienced in the last 100 years. Every crisis that we face, whether sovereign debt, or ecological crisis, terrorism or genetic manipulation, comes from our lack of moral energy, our stunted moral growth in the face of such advanced technological powers.
When one per cent of the world’s richest persons, controls more wealth than the other 99 per cent of the planet, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
When the eight richest persons control as much wealth as the poorest half of the planet, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
When people are willing to give up their lives for an ideological war by committing suicide in public, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
When the last 16 years are the 16 hottest years on record since 1880 when we began measuring global temperature, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
When heavily indebted poor countries like my own, are asked to pass the burden of debt onto the poorest people in their country, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
When 116 countries worldwide have their debts beyond critical thresholds and rising, we know we need God to give us a new heart.
While Barbados is not in an IMF programme, it recommended that Barbados lay off 3,500 persons and reduce expenditure on social programmes. The Government chose to increase taxes to address the fiscal deficit – raising taxes in a shrinking pie.
The burden has been transferred from the state to the most vulnerable, resulting also in an increase of vulnerable persons in society. The implementation of a levy on imports in the recent budget in Parliament further increases the burden of every citizen with the most vulnerable again bearing a disproportionate share of that burden.
The Christian Tradition has always held “The principle of the universal destination of goods” and “the preferential option for the poor” (Compendium of Social Doctrine #182).
St John Paul put this another way: “All private property has a social mortgage”. If individuals, families or nations are not paying their social mortgage and thus caring for the most vulnerable, it is because they have stony hearts; they had turned away from God. We live in a civilisation that has turned greed into a virtue, money is our idol and we follow the creed of rap artist 50 Cent to “get rich or die trying”.
We are over relying on technical systems of control, believing somehow the market will fix the problem. This is like believing that the engine can drive the car while spinning out of control.
In the 2008 financial crisis, the little people bore the burden of the crisis while the CEO’s got huge bonuses. We have turned wealth, power, pleasure and notoriety into idols. We have made them more important than serving God or our neighbours in need. The world has enough wealth to keep everyone on our planet out of abject poverty, yet we continue to promote a technical structure that accumulates wealth for a few, and results in poverty for the masses. We seem to keep missing the human being in front of us. We must dream of a different world.
If we turn away from our idols; if we choose to love as Jesus loved and love our neighbour as ourselves, then God will take our hearts of stone and turn them into hearts of flesh. We will become as generous as Jesus is asking us to become.
The renewal of the world requires repentance and turning towards God. We must put a human face on the large debt owed by these struggling economies. Then God will give us new hearts, hearts of flesh. Once again, He will be our God and we will be his people (Ez 36:29)
In announcing the first ‘World day of the Poor’ on November 19, Pope Francis said the day should become “a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers, allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the deepest truth of the Gospel.”
Let us dare to dream of a world where no nation will be crippled by unsustainable sovereign debt. Let us dare to dream of a human economy where decisions are made every day in the best interest of people; where all people will have hearts of flesh; where we will all seek the Lord and walk in God’s ways; where we will be neighbours to those most in need; where every person on the planet will have what they need to flourish; where there will be no war, no poverty and no indebted nations or peoples. This is what we dream every time we pray the ‘Our Father’, “the prayer of the poor” as Pope Francis calls it as we say “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
We have believed that if we got the structures right, if we got the economy right, that if we got the right balance between the delicate eco-system and development, then we will have the kingdom of God on earth. The kingdom of God cannot be built with technical systems of control. Only humans can collaborate or show empathy or kindness, leveraging our humanity.
Pope Francis has said: Reforming the social structures which perpetuate poverty and the exclusion of the poor first requires a conversion of mind and heart.
The fact is we cannot get these right unless God gives us a new heart; hearts turned towards God, others, the creation and especially the poor. We cannot have a new heart unless we are willing to repent; turn the direction of our lives towards God and God’s Kingdom. This is why Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, begins his ministry with the words: “The time has come,” he said, “and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.” (Mk 1:15).
Repentance will be dreaming and working for God’s dream: So let us dare to dream and work for a world where technological innovation serves all citizens on the planet, especially the most vulnerable; a world where the gap between the rich and the poor – people and nations – will shrink as we empower all to realise their human potential; a world where we live in harmony with God, with all people, our self and the creation; a world where we all have hearts of flesh; a World where we again will be God’s people, and He will be our God.
I am asking you, if you remember nothing else from this homily, please I urge you: use your life energy your talent and creativity to think, dream, pray and work for a better world. May we all become God’s people. Amen.