by Julie Dotterweich Gunby
“There is conflict—God be blessed.
When a sore spot is touched,
there is conflict, there is pain…
No one wants to have a sore spot touched,
and therefore a society with so many sores twitches
when someone has the courage to touch it and say:
‘You have to treat that. You have to get rid of that.’”
~Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love. Compiled and translated by James R. Brockman, S.J. (Farmington, PA: The Plough Publishing House, 1998), 26, 30.
As conflict-averse as I am, I have to say that this is beautiful, a word of good news.
Being ‘conflict- averse’ is a luxury, borne of a life of ease in which one has the option for her own comfort rather than a daily unbidden battle with darkness, destruction, exploitation.
Oscar Romero’s life and words call us toward holy conflict.
The world is not as it should be.
To name it as such, to fight for its restitution, and to draw down ire for so doing is an act of faith in the good, the true, and the beautiful, as well as in the only One who can and will make all things right.
Racism, greed, abuse, self-absorption, waste, banality …
As unpopular as it is, the language of sin is the language that lets us touch the sore spots.
Consider the beauty of condemning the wickedness and wastefulness of the empire, and how essential the language of sin is to that endeavor:
But the fact is, we can’t go around battling the powers and principalities of this world unless we are first thrown into holy, transformative conflict within ourselves.
We can’t bring healing if we are covered in festering sores. We can’t advance the charge into moral battle if our own inner lives are palaces of unreflective ease. We cannot crack open public pain if we know nothing of the inner landscape of despair.
We know this because it was true of no less than Jesus himself.
Between the launch of Jesus’ ministry by baptism and his proclaiming gospel of repentance, he is driven – by the very Spirit of God – into a state of conflict, of temptation, of purification, self-denial, and utter surrender to God.
Mark 1:9-14 (NSRV): In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Ours is not a journey from the clear waters of baptism to ever more enlightened perfection in the truth. Smug self-satisfaction has convinced no one ever, and what is worse, it betrays the reality of the Gospel.
In Jesus, God has become like us, that we, through the brutal work of transformation might become like God, and that our healing might be for the healing of the world.
May God not leave us in our complacency and ease, but disrupt us enough to pray:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”