Image: Sunrise over Tuktoyaktuk
It takes about seven years of post-secondary education to become a priest, add a few more years if you want to become a Jesuit. Yet in all my years of schooling nobody once taught me how to change the track on a snowmobile or how to set a net under the ice of a frozen river. These are things I am learning on the job. It’s not that I am ungrateful for my education but in our readings today we find that formal education is not everything and it certainly does not take an advanced degree in theological studies to be an expert witness for Christ.
The reading from Acts continues the story of Peter and John who, having healed a man of his disability and giving credit to Christ, now stand before the priests accused of blasphemy. The authorities become frustrated because standing before them are two, “uneducated and ordinary men.” Yet, try as they might, they cannot build a case against them. Speaking boldly, Peter witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and calls upon the crowds to repent of their wrongdoings and believe in Christ, and thousands do.
Not being able to charge them with any crime the powers-that-be try instead to silence the two evangelists, threatening them with vague notions of what might happen if they keep spreading their message. Undeterred, Peter and John again seize the upper hand arguing that if it came to bowing to empty threats of the local authorities or following the command of their Lord the choice was simple, “we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.” With that the grumbling priests set them free and they returned to their friends rejoicing in what God was doing in their midst.
For many people in small, isolated northern communities, advanced education has never been an option. Regardless of this seeming limitation, more and more of these “ordinary” people are rising up and showing great courage and wisdom as they stand strong in the face of government neglect and corporate exploitation, witnessing for the protection of their culture, their land and the environment.
Sadly, these voices do not always prevail. Those we hoped would know better often act in ignorance or greed and refuse to hear the words of today’s prophets. In the Gospel for today Mark shares that the very first person Jesus reveals himself to is Mary Magdalene. Despite this honor Mary’s voice is dismissed by the disciples who refuse to believe her account. They are later rebuked by Jesus for being faithless and unbelieving.
It is not always about a loud voice for justice or dramatic public displays of resistance to which ordinary people are called. Anawim is a word from the Hebrew Scriptures which refers to the “poor ones” who inconspicuously remain faithful to God in times of difficulty. I am reminded of the group of (mostly) seniors in my former parish who gather weekly in the upper room of the parish hall to knit prayer shawls for those in the community who are sick and mitts, toques and socks for men and women who are in prison. This quiet act has touched so many lives and has been a truly positive witness to the Gospel.
Through consistent faithfulness and small, positive actions, great changes can take place that often leave the highly educated and those in authority confounded and wondering what just happened under their noses.