Scenes of women and men running after a departing aircraft at Kabul Airport have saturated our screens for the last week. Some of those desperate to leave were seen clinging their hope to the departing wings or the bolted doors of the craft. Some were run down, some had their hope lifted only to fall through the air to a tragic death. Beyond the airport, others were making their way by foot on the fastest route out of the country.
And the analysis continues. Should the west ever have been there? Was the task impossible? What was the task? Was the price paid over the last twenty years of war a price worth paying? These questions will continue to be asked and history, as so often, will be the judge in the end.
How do we respond? As Christians, we could draw on some of the principles of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person, the common good, the right to participation in the political and social realm, peace, and solidarity. When our hearts and minds are turned to these things we may see things differently. Our Christian faith cannot allow us to see fellow human beings fleeing for safety and security and do nothing. Clearly, not one country or one community can do everything. But if we all do something a difference can be made.
As a citizen of Australia and a Christian, I would like to see our country give permanent residency to those Afghan people who are already in Australia and living on temporary visas anxiously awaiting their fate. I would like to see the intake of more people from Afghanistan for whose freedom and rights Australia joined international forces to protect from persecution and suppression. When people are in desperate flight from their home country for fear of their lives, compassion should reign. The protection of the dignity and right to live should prevail. The international community should respond with generosity.
The gospel for this weekend is from John 6:60-69. Chapter six of John’s Gospel is a long dissertation about Jesus, who is the bread of life. The text reminds us that it was the hand of God that protected and fed Israel in the desert after Israel had fled from the land of slavery and oppression to seek a new future. While wandering through the desert God sent them ‘manna from heaven’ each day. They literally lived by the daily bread provided by the Lord. Jesus identifies himself as even more than that bread. He is the bread of life. His life, his words, his call, are the bread of life. All that he is and does is offered to those who share in his meal. All who eat the bread of life, eat all he stands for, including bringing forgiveness, drawing those on the outer into the centre and lifting the burden of those who are weighed down.
The question for the disciples in John’s Gospel is, will we follow him? And we are told many left his company because they found his teaching intolerable. The apostles in contrast claim “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life”. These words echo those that we hear in the first reading from the Book of Joshua when the people say to Joshua, “We have no intention of deserting the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors out of the land of Egypt, the house of slavery, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and preserved us all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we journeyed. We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
The Judeo-Christian tradition is witness to the God who does not abandon the oppressed and the fleeing. The Eucharistic bread we eat is not just for our personal nourishment it is for the life of the world. Christianity is a witness to the God who walks with broken humanity. Those who eat the bread of life are called to do the same.
By Fr Brendan Reed