Call to be a disciple is a call to confront evil

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon. (File photo by Angie de Silva for LiCAS.news)

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turns his face toward you and gives you peace. ( Numbers: 6:24-26)

With this beautiful prayer from the Book of Numbers, I invite you all to today’s worship. Let us ask the Lord that He may bless us, keep us and let his face shine on us, and give us peace.

These are days of prayer: prayer on our untiring knees.

Prayer for peace in this suffering nation, prayer for those in prisons, prayer for thousands who are displaced. And we say to the Lord:

Lord Turn Your Face toward Us and Give us Peace.

Our prayers started long ago. We were on our knees from 2020 March when the pandemic broke forth. Today we fall on our knees, saying save us, Lord, from the conflict, save us from the displacement of our children and old people, save us from the threat of the COVID third wave. It is spreading fast. Thousands are infected. The country is in lockdown in many places. And on our knees, we say:

Lord Turn Your Face towards Us and Give us Peace.

Yes, my brothers and sisters in Myanmar. We face a multilayered crisis. COVID, Conflict, and Collapse of the economy. But God is there. He is the living God. We raise our hands once again and pray for one another. Our suffering comes from man-made and natural disasters. So we turn to the author of life:

Lord Turn your Face towards us and Give us Peace.

Today the main theme is: God’s Call to be a disciple is a call to encounter evil; not collude with evil. Be a Disciple, not a devotee.

We have three beautiful readings today. The three themes flow from them:

  1. Book of Amos: Call to Amos, a shepherd to go and prophesy and denounce evil. The Lord asked him to be a prophet. He says he is incapable: I am just one looking after the sheep and dresser of sycamore trees.” But the Lord said, ” Go and prophesy to my people” — All of us are weak, spiritually, physically, and emotionally especially these times in Myanmar. But the Lord is asking each one of us to do our best. Never give up.
  2. The Letter to Ephesians: God accompanies us from womb to tomb: He called us before the foundation of the world. Be holy. Never collude with evil. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. I can do, in Christ who strengthens me. Never give up.
  3. The Gospel According to Mark: Go Proclaim the good news, let the evil go away. The mission of proclamation is still valid even today: Proclamation for Peace, justice, and reconciliation. Do not be frightened of the power of Evil in this world. Never give up.

The name of Amos resonates with every Myanmar citizen. Amos was a poor shepherd. He was called by God to be a prophet. He was empty-handed. He had no social status. He had no money. He was just a shepherd. But the Lord calls him to challenge the powers to be, the pretenders to the throne. He castigates. He attacks the colluders with the power of Evil. He roasts the men who compromised their conscience and supped with the Devil. He castigates those who looted the resources and sold the poor in the streets: He thunders in front of the arrogance of rich and powerful:

You say to yourselves: Let we buy the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the chaff with the wheat!” Beware! The LORD has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget any of their deeds (Amos 8:6-7)

What a timely thunder!

It vibrates in every heart in Myanmar. God will never forget the evil deeds of bad men. The Lord will never, ever forget those who oppress the poor and the vulnerable. Amos’s words were soaked in fire, and fury against the injustice done to the innocent people. God’s justice will come. It may be delayed but never denied. Amos met many challenges because he had the courage to speak to powers. But he refused to be a “fake” prophet, seeking security and solace in praising the exploitative powers. He paid the price for standing for justice.

We have had a modern Amos, Father Stan Lourduswamy, who stood witness to justice by working for the poor people in India. The powers arrested him and incarcerated him at a very old age of 84. He died in custody. He died as a Martyr for the marginalized people.

Those who follow the commandments of God are never afraid of speaking the truth to the powers and support the poor. Others are fake prophets, prophesying for a marcel of food. Colluding with evil will cost life and soul. It is easy to be a devotee of Yahweh rather than a prophet of Yahweh. Amos castigates those devotees.

Jesus would demand the same discipleship. His call is not to be a devotee but to be a disciple. Today he calls forth his disciples and asks them to go “powerless’ no money, no sandal, no extra tunic. Go with the power of the heart, the power of the good news, the power of the empty hands. Being a disciple has its costs. A disciple never colludes with evil, never seeks power and wealth. Rather Jesus says: if you want to be my disciple: carry the Cross and follow me. The powerlessness of the disciple is the strength of the disciple. St Paul would say: When I am weak, I am strong. When I lose my own egoistic manipulation and surrender to God I am strong. In Myanmar we are exactly in that position: faced with enormous power, the temptation is to assert our ego, seek vengeance. The evil explodes in joy when we imitate its methods. The moral power of good people will ultimately win because God marches with them.

The Call to Discipleship starts much early even before our birth, with all the blessings: St Paul exclaims with great joy!

He called us before the foundation of the world. God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing. I can do everything, in Christ who strengthens me.

That is the power of the Disciple. Not the arms purchased from UN Security Council Members.

This is the moral power that is endowed on every Christian to be his disciple. Jesus’ instructions to the apostles are very specific. He repeats the mission that they are sent to preach and to share his authority to heal and to drive out demons.

Each one of us is called to be disciples and to be Apostles: “Apostles” means to be sent on a Mission. What is that mission today in Myanmar, a nation wounded too long, soaked in human tears and shatteredness? What does it mean to be an Apostle in Myanmar: to be sent for what? Where?

Mark enumerates four missions as Jesus instructed his disciples

  1. Announce the Good News: Proclamation
  2. Denounce those who do not accept Peace: Take the Prophetic Role
  3. Heal the Sick
  4. Expel the Demons
  5. Preach Repentance

These are exactly the mission priorities of today’s Myanmar.

  1. Announce the Good News: Proclamation: This suffering nation needs a heavy dose of good news. What is that good news? Justice. Like the Prophet, the good news is to stop exploiting the poor and the vulnerable. This golden land belongs to everyone. This country is not private property to anyone. Let the people of Myanmar rejoice! God has given them a promised land and its resources belong to all of them. Proclaiming that good news is the duty of everyone.
  2. Denounce those who do not accept Peace: Jesus instructs the disciples: Denounce those who do not seek peaceful means of reconciling issues. Those who hate peace: are not in God’s Kingdom. Jesus says: shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them. Yes, the disciples do have a duty to denounce and have nothing to do with those who steal from the poor engage in endless wars.
  3. Heal the Sick: Myanmar people are infected by so many viruses: the virus of war, the virus of displacement, the virus of inflicted starvation, the virus of dying in the jungles, the virus of incarceration. How many deadly sicknesses infected our people! Now the deadly COVID. Our people are spiritually wounded, psychologically wounded, physically wounded, we are wounded as a community. We need to pray to the eternal healer that he may stretch out his hands over this land wounded by human greed and nature’s ferocity. Jesus will heal this nation and make it whole.
  4. Expel the Demons: Lots of evil possession in this country. Too many devils. Too many demons. The demon of selfishness, the demon of power, the demon of exploitation, the demon of “selling the poor for a pair of sandals,” the demon of war, the demon of injustice. We have a litany of demons. As a nation and as a people we need to exorcise all these demons through resisting evil, not colluding with the evil.
  5. Preach Repentance: If we want our nation to be God’s kingdom we need to start with repentance. Jesus started his public minister with the simple words: REPENT THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NEAR.

All the difficulties we undergo will go away with personal conversion and repentance. For too long we have lived in this great country. Not many of us worked for unity. We were divided in many ways. We need to repent and say: All of us are brothers and sisters, created in the same God.

We need community repentance: Religion has been used to divide and even persecute people. No religion teaches hate or persecution. This nation of great spiritual wealth needs to reset the moral compass with compassion and address all the injustice done in the name of all parochial perspectives.

We need the repentance of the leaders. God gave to our people a great nation. For the last seventy years, this nation has never settled down into peaceful co-existence. Power played a major role. Thousands perished, millions were displaced. This nation has fought only wars internally with no external enemy threatening the nation. All our leaders need to repent and make this nation a peaceful nation.

To do this, let each one of us start a spiritual pilgrimage of not colluding with dark forces of evil but have the courage to confront evil and like the apostles, have the courage to “shake the dust off the feet from those houses that do not build peace.”

Let us end with the Prayer: Lord Turn Your Face towards Us and Give us Peace.

This is a homily delivered by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon on July 11, 2019.