Have you ever felt like you were under a microscope? Have you ever had that experience where someone is just watching and waiting for you to do something wrong? Another phrase that might help us illustrate that is “walking on eggshells.” Maybe you feel like you are walking on eggshells at home or with your spouse. Have you ever felt like someone “threw you under the bus?” Just completely threw you under the bus and made you take the blame for something even when it was not your fault. Have you ever felt bullied or scapegoated or felt like you “had the deck stacked against you?” All of these different experiences are illustrated in all of today’s readings.
We hear Jeremiah very clearly say, “I hear the whisperings of many: Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.” We have experiences in life that are like this. The one who is always behind these examples is Satan. Satan is the enemy who is the one that wants to rally everybody around one scapegoat and place all the blame on that person.
Certainly, we are seeing this played out now in our society very clearly. We are seeing it with the racial injustice, the racial wars, the rioting, the police brutality, and the retaliation against the police. It all becomes power play against power play against power play against power play. Whenever that happens, you can see that the enemy is involved. Whenever that scapegoating begins to take place or those mechanisms take place of one power against another, we can see very clearly that it is not of God because God wants us to unite. He wants us to come together and Satan is always the one that divides.
I am going to give just a few examples to help us see how we all have probably experienced this in our own lives. First of all, we can very clearly see that people of the black culture have been oppressed. They have been abused. They have been killed without justice, and that is why we see all this anger coming forth right now. If you have ever been imprisoned or know someone that has gone through the jail system, you understand that the likelihood of a person going back to jail is so high. All of the structure and all of the power is against them at succeeding in life. Think about those that might be illegal immigrants right now in our country. They are probably constantly on guard for doing something wrong knowing they will get sent back.
I asked online for people to give examples of times when they experienced this attack against them or being put under a microscope. One woman said her first year teaching at a brand new school included a certain group of parents that just rallied around her like vultures waiting to attack her. No matter what she did, they came in to attack. Over time, many of those parents came to see that she was a good teacher, and they came to love her as a teacher. I know teachers without tenure have to be on guard about everything. Think about children growing up in sports programs. They have to always be “on.” If they mess up, they get cut from the team or moved to second string. Think about parents who are in a custody battle over their child and have to worry about every single thing they do being looked at. Think about our young kids or our teenagers spending time online and on social media. Everything they do is out there. It is on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter and at any moment people can turn against them. They can find something wrong with them. Wow! Look out for that unleashing of power.
This happens to public figures. If they do one thing wrong, that is it for their career. I have experienced that as a priest – doing something where I mess up and all of a sudden letters go to the bishop. That is a horrible feeling. It is so difficult to be involved in a law suit where someone is suing you, and they have way more money or resources. What a horrible feeling that is to be powerless. Think about children that grow up in alcoholic homes or with abusive parents. The people that are supposed to love and support them and care for them are the opposite. They are all by themselves having to grow up in that.
With all of these examples, we experience what it is like to have everything turn against us. The deck is stacked against us. We are under the microscope and feel like anything that we do can and will be used against us. That is a horrible feeling. It is a horrible feeling to live through. God comes to us repeatedly to say that he is a God of justice. That he will not let the oppressed continue to be oppressed. There is a Netflix show on right now with Dave Chappelle, and he says a very powerful line. He says in response to the police officer, “What do you signify that you can kneel on a man’s neck? You can kneel on a man’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds and feel like you would not get the wrath of God?” God does not allow these things to go unnoticed. God does not allow us who may be powerless to remain that way.
I am going to read a section from each of today’s readings. From the first book of Jeremiah, “O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.” So, for you who are being oppressed or manipulated or in a bad situation (you have a bad marriage or parents or bad whatever it may be), really trust that God is going to work it out. We hear in the Psalm today “I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my children, because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.” We normally hear people cursing God but the curses come upon us. Then in Romans we hear, “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” The reality is that we all experience oppression. We all experience abuse. We all experience manipulation. Finally, Matthew says, “Fear no one. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”
What do we do when we experience this going on? All of this tension between powers? I think the first thing to do is examine our hearts and our minds to make sure that we are not the ones doing the oppressing or the abusing or the manipulation. We are really asking ourselves is there anyone that I am oppressing or abusing or manipulating? If we are, really allowing God to convert our hearts to go to confession and confess those sins and be transformed. Secondly, to ask, “Am I being abused? Is there a situation in my life that is really wrong where I am being abused?” The important thing is how we handle that. It is important to really work with God on that because the enemy is really at power there. Sometimes the tendency is to become the abuser. So, if we are being abused the tendency is to lash out and become the abuser and then the cycle continues on. Try letting God guide us to convert our hearts so that we can truly help overcome sin in our world.
We can finally be comforted by the reading that we hear in Romans, “But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” Grace is so much more powerful than sin. For any oppression we have experienced, any abuse we have experienced, or any manipulation we have experienced, grace is so much more powerful. We turn to God especially at this Mass, we ask that he free us from oppression, from abuse, from violence and all of this that is going on. Help us to be one body in Christ.