The terrible events that happened in Nice (France) a couple of days ago are very difficult to take in. A crowd that included families and young children had gathered to mark a national occasion. Visitors from other countries and residents of the city were present. Music was playing and fireworks were to be set off. It’s hard to picture a happier scene – reminiscent of 4th July celebrations downtown, exactly like that. To that scene comes an unwelcome guest, a man with one thing on his mind, to do harm, the killing and injury of these innocent bystanders. What could possibly have possessed him to do such a thing? What cause could have been so great to strike here in this place and at this time against the innocent? What madness could have taken hold of his mind that he would have thought this right or justifiable? How is it possible to suspend everything you know that is right and good to do such a deed?
It is impossible to be at church and not to think of the great harm that has been done and to wonder at it and to be appalled at the scale and the magnitude of the violence.
If this is war, it is a different type of warfare, not waged between soldiers or armies or navies any longer, they seem obsolete here. This is warfare between a lone gun men or small armed cells and the innocent. The battlefields are not lines drawn far away from us on a map but against cities and town dwellers, like place we live. This kind of battle can take place anywhere and at anytime.
In times past cities and towns built walls to defend themselves against their enemies. The stranger could do you harm, you built a fortified city to keep your enemy out. You looked out from your parapet suspiciously at the world outside. You depended on your soldiers to defend you.
What kind of walls can you build to keep you safe against this? Who can defend you against such violence? It brings home to us if need be of some of the violence that has been experienced by the innocent civilians in places like the middle-eastern countries.
Today at Mass we hear something different than all of this. Instead of building walls, instead of suspicion of the stranger we hear of something completely different, we hear of hospitality. The hospitality of Abraham and the hospitality of Martha and Mary. Abraham welcomes 3 unknown guests who come to his table, he and his wife Sarah observe all the laws of hospitality, sitting them down, making them welcome and feeding them. Likewise Martha and Mary do the same to Jesus and the many people who came with him.
This is so different from the world that is being created around about us. The stranger is the one who might do us harm. The stranger is the one who might come against us. The stranger is the one who might come into our city, onto our streets, into our homes. Our locks have to be stronger, our doors, more secure, our defenses hirer, our walls thicker and bigger so that they cannot be penetrated.
What we hear in the readings is different. The stranger is not to be kept at a distance, the stranger is not to be feared, the stranger is not the one who will do you harm, the stranger has not some secret plan against us. The strangers who come to Abraham bring him blessings. The strangers who flood Martha and Mary’s house bring good cheer and happiness. The stranger can become your friend. The stranger will bring you some unknown blessing, the stranger is not be feared but to be welcomed, to be brought in and sat at your table.
The world of Abraham and Sarah and the world of Martha and Mary is the world that we should aim to create. Who wants to live in a city surrounded by barbed wire? Who wants to live in a world where everyone might be our enemy?
Ti create those walls, to allow these fears to take hold…the men and women of violence have won their battle.
We have to go back to basics to untie those knots that we have created and find difficult to untie. The very basics of what is in their heart of men and women that can do things. It is sin that divides, it is sin that makes it possible in this kind of way, it is sin that makes us come against one another.
Who can untie that knot, only the Lord can do it, only he can release us. Only he can bring us to our senses. Only he can cast out the demons that posses us. Only he can help us to find roads that lead us out, only he can help us to find roads that lead to peace rather than conflict and killing.