Lectio: Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C,
Thus says the Lord, who made a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who put chariots and horse in the field and a powerful army, which lay there never to rise again, snuffed out, put out like a wick."No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before. See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wild. The wild beasts will honour me, jackals and ostriches; because I am putting water in the wilderness, rivers in the wild to give my chosen people drink. The people I formed for myself will sing my praises."
Can you not see it
W hat God did in the Bible long ago, God continues to do in our personal lives, in our families and in the wider world today. Whenever we see that we are encouraged.
Seven years ago on an extremely warm afternoon, a woman in her late twenties arrived at the United Nations office in Khartoum in Sudan. She had travelled hundreds of miles from her native village in Darfur. Government soldiers and militia were killing large numbers of people in Darfur, carrying out violent sexual assaults on women and burning homes and villages. She was one of a hundred women who were raped in her village. With great courage she made the dangerous journey to Khartoum to tell the United Nations what was happening. She asked to see the person in charge and was told that this was not possible. She insisted and began to scream and shout. The United Nations Co-Ordinator in his air-conditioned office heard the commotion. He brought the young woman in and heard her full story.
His name was Mukesh Kapila. Her story shocked him. In the following days he carried out his own investigations and came to the conclusion that what was happening in Darfur was ethnic cleansing and genocide. Urgent action was needed. He sent a full account of the situation to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, but they did not want to hear. Peace negations were going on at that time between the government of Sudan and rebels in the south of the country. Any complaints about Darfur could interfere with these negotiations. He tried to get the countries on the UN Security Council to do something; he travelled to some of the capital cities including London and Paris to plead with them to take action. They gave no response.
In March 2003 he decided he could wait no longer. Without authorization from his superiors in New York, he gave a live interview on the BBC in which he exposed the atrocities that were taking place in Darfur, and condemned the United Nations authorities for doing nothing. The Government of Sudan was furious. Mr Kapila received death threats. Within two weeks he was removed from his post and he knew that his career in the United Nations was ended.
But his broadcast focused the attention of the world media on Darfur, and international pressure began to be brought to bear on the Sudanese government. When the new secretary general of the UN took up office at the beginning 2007, he said that his first priority was Darfur. The courageous actions of the young woman from the Darfur village and of Mukesh Kapila were not in vain.
It is easy to see that God was at work in these two people. What he was doing through them seems small and ineffective in the face of the violence in Darfur and the negligence of the international community. Yet these small signs of his presence assure us that God will not stop until the people of Darfur are free to live in peace.
Then and now
Within the Bible itself there is a moment when God reminds his people of what he has already done at an earlier time. The Babylonians had captured the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and had taken the greater part the population as prisoners to Babylon, where they remained for many years. They were deeply discouraged; all seemed lost. Then God spoke to them through the prophet Isaiah. First of all he reminded them of the story of their ancestors. When they were ill-treated as slaves in Egypt, God had sent Moses to lead them out, and had divided the Red Sea so that they could pass through it to safety and freedom. Having reminded them of the past, God then told them, “See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light; can you not see it?” What they could see was a new king, named Cyrus who had come to power in Babylon; he was kindly disposed to the Jews. Their hope was restored and it was well founded. In due course Cyrus allowed them to leave Babylon and he helped them to make their way back home to Jerusalem.