C Cycle – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 22
Last week a football coach fired in 2013 for praying with his players was exonerated by the Supreme Court. He is to be reinstated, given back pay and was awarded financial damages. He is not alone in his battle for the right to have a free expression of his faith. We in America do not face extremes of persecution faced by other countries for believing and desiring to give witness to our faith. Worldwide persecution of Christians includes death, torture, imprisonment, and loss of property. In America, we have a silent yet just as active and deadly persecution. We have been forced into silence by lawsuits challenging visible and verbal expressions of faith all based on the doctrine of the separation of church and state.
Employees can no longer be visible in their expression of faith as that coach was. Nor can employees have visible symbols of their faith on display at their workplace or on their person. Governments can no longer have symbols of faith on display. Over the past 20 years cities have removed spiritual references in mottos form their city seals. Visible structures such as crosses, nativity displays, or even the ten commandments have been removed from city property. We have given in to this war on Christianity. We have become uncomplaining and willing participants because we want to stay employed and we do not see how we can fight against organizations like the “Freedom from Religion Foundation.”
But that one coach fought back against all odds and won his case. I cannot imagine how he had the fortitude, the financial ability or even the strength of character to continue to fight for his right to pray and continue working with high school teens which he loved. It makes me wonder why we have been so silent as we Christians have been forced into compliance as society has been telling us we can only give witness to our faith in the privacy of our homes and churches.
In the movie “The Hurricane,” Rubin “Hurricane” Carter an arrogant, prideful champion middleweight boxer is arrested for a murder he did not commit. He was tried, convicted, and imprisoned for life for a crime he did not commit. He was innocent and he filed appeal after appeal to get the conviction overturned. After exhausting every appeal, he resigns himself to the fact that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. He tells his wife that he wants her to divorce him and to move on with her life, saying, “I’m dead. Forget about me.” From that moment on, the hurricane uses his time in prison reading, studying, and eventually he wrote a book about his life. A book that after it was published became a best seller but one which was soon forgotten. Years later, a black teen from the ghetto, discovers the book in a used bookstore and buys the book for a quarter.
Moved by Ruben’s story, the teen “Lesera Martin” begins to write to Hurricane in prison beginning a relationship that leads to their meeting and eventually to the overturning of the murder conviction. At a pivotal point in their relationship, Hurricane notes that it was no coincidence that Lesera came across that book and contacted him. Ruben, points out how God describes another Ruben in the scriptures: Genesis 49, saying “Ruben my firstborn … preeminent in pride … unstable as water… you shall not prevail.” But he also looks at Lesera’s name a derivative of Lazarus, the one raised from the dead and tells him that it was hate that killed Ruben, but love has raised him and given him new life.
Today we heard a story of faith, and the new life God promises us if we believe. But we also find in these readings a message that tells us that we must respond to that promise by a willingness to stand for what we profess and believe. Lesrea did by pursuing the injustice he found in the conviction of Hurricane Carter. The brothers in our first reading did by standing firm for what they believed in even though it meant their death. They knew they would have eternal life by doing God’s will.
But the choice to live or die may be the easiest to make for all of us. Faced with a life or death choice of acknowledging what we believe we may all choose to stand firm in our faith. But what about those times when we are silent because we do not want to “rock the boat” for the sake of being like everyone else? Each time we choose to be like everyone else when our faith tells us it is wrong, we die a spiritual death. That coach could have stopped praying when he was told to, but he chose not to deny his faith and it cost him his job. He could have just gone away but he continued to fight because he believed in God’s promise to be with him always.
Today we are reminded that we who believe in the resurrection must in everything we do, everything we say live a life that by word and example say we will always acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior.
We are called to be witnesses not just members of a church. We must be living examples of a bold faith lived in faith for others to also become bold. What would have happened if the first brother had agreed to do what the king wanted and in doing so denied all he believed. We need to be examples to one another. We need to be like Lesera to one another. He stood and confronted those who wanted to keep Hurricane in jail. We need to stand strong in the face of those who want to keep you from giving witness to the love of God.