Gospel Reflections

17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 11:1-13

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Kathryne Webster

Published: July 24, 2016

We drove 90km in our Land Pastoral (CPT) car to two settlements in Anapu, Pará, Brazil. 30 km were on a dirt road, and a part was in terrible condition. We went to two areas of land that are occupied by people who have had no land and are working for a plot. In the first area, the objective was to be with the people during a conciliatory negotiation between the people who are occupying and the person who pretends to be the owner. The Regional Agrarian Listener, an official of the Brazilian Federal Government whose job it is to try to prevent land conflicts was presiding. There were between 40 and 50 adults and 15 to 20 children seated or standing in a large circle against the walls of the classroom, of the one-room school house of the occupation. The vice-president and treasurer of the Farmworkers’ Union were also present. The vice-president welcomed everyone and then asked the priest, the Land Pastoral coordinator, to open the meeting with a prayer, and gave the suggestion of the Lord’s Prayer. We all stood, joined hands and prayed this well-known prayer.

The meeting ran. The proposal that the rancher offered was to divide the lot, two-thirds for the people and a third for himself. The conclusion of the people was “No way.” It is not possible to put 40 families on 2000 hectares and leave a thousand for the rancher. He wanted the pasture land and the people to take the forest. With these terms, the people would be constantly threatened by the rancher, his cattle would escape into their fields, the hayseed would be blown into their fields ruining the land for crops. What is more, in this agreement the people would have the forest and that is protected. They would have very little land to farm. It was an impossible agreement. The meeting ended with the people united in their position to not agree with the terms of the rancher’s proposal. The vice-president called upon one of the women of an evangelical religion to close the meeting with a prayer. She prayed: “Lord, you are listening to us, we thank you for the chance to be here in this meeting. We ask your blessing on our plans. Help us to succeed in getting what we want and need which is land to plant to be able to sustain our families.” As she prayed, there were murmurs all over the room: Hear, us, Lord. Protect us, Lord; help us to get all we need for life; protect us” and other similar phrases. We then went to one of the homes and shared a meal of beans, rice, chicken and macaroni.

We left for the next meeting, following a cow path (in the car) through pasture, and then a dirt road through forest....full of holes and gullies and precarious bridges of logs and planks. Suddenly we came to the top of a hill and looked over a valley with improvised shacks made of plastic tarpaulins and palm branches, cleared plots for planting manioc and fruit trees, long ropes strung between poles with colorful clothes flapping in the breeze. As we got closer, we could see the hammocks; buckets, kettles and basins; clotheslines with clothes and towels; tools leaning against the beams of the shacks and motorcycles, the essentials for beginning a settlement. The scene radiated joy and hope.

We arrived in the place where the meeting was to be held, which was a roof beside the school house the people had made. When the car of the CPT and the Agrarian Listener stopped, the people started arriving from their houses for the meeting. We formed a circle sitting on school chairs, benches, stumps and planks. Once again the vice president of the union opened the meeting and called on the priest to lead the group in prayer, specifically the Lord’s prayer. We joined hands and prayed.

Here the people said they were worried about the cattle that a former occupant had allowed into the settlement since he rented pasture land to the rancher. The agreement was verbal and has expired, and the people want support to get the rancher to remove the cattle. The Listener is going to try to get the rancher to remove the cattle. The people are very close to getting this land securely for the settlement. They affirmed among themselves that they cannot cut down any forest, and only second growth less than five years old with permission for their crops. It was also repeated that buying or selling of lots is prohibited and will weaken the argument to make this a legal settlement. They are committed to working to make this a viable settlement with families living in the settlement with a school and to pressuring the mayor to repair the road to make it passable. They also promised to participate in the meetings of the other settlements where the problems are discussed in a larger context and unified actions are planned and implemented. To close the meeting, we joined hands and prayed once more the Our Father.

On this day we prayed the Our Father, Lord’s Prayer three times, and participated in a prayer of thanksgiving and petition. We were living the content of this prayer, the content of this passage of the Gospel of Luke.

This passage of the gospel attributed to Luke’s community offers us a version of the “Our Father”… its essence: “Father, holy is your name, that your kingdom come.”  There is a God, Father/Mother, Higher Power whose reign is coming. Different from other reigns, it is a reign of love, justice, equality, sharing, forgiveness, peace and joy. The next line is a prayer that we have our daily bread. With this word “our”  we are placed in the context of community. It is no longer I alone who is praying but WE are praying together and asking for our daily bread: that which we need to live, as everyone needs to live, not to accumulate, get rich, climb and compete, but that which we together need to live and be happy. We ask for forgiveness as we forgive our debtors. It is no surprise that we error, that we create situations in which we are owing someone something, or someone is owning us, and we are called to forgive, set the situation right. In order to keep the community healthy, the members need to be able to forgive each other. Lastly, we recognize the need for the force of God to keep us from temptation. What temptation? The temptations that undermine and destroy the community: competition, greed, gossip, criticism to undo others, selfishness, among others.

This passage came alive among the people of these two settlements. The passage ends with two examples of prayer asking for something: a neighbor who asks another for food to offer a guest and a child who asks his parent for an egg or fish. The neighbor and parent provide, so how much more God will provide is the conclusion. The question is: for what are we asking? I return to the prayer of the woman at the end of the meeting: asking for that which the community needs to live together well, to live in security, to have a piece of land from which the families can get their sustenance, so they can know happiness. What marked me was that she prayed with fervor and conviction and the people affirmed the prayer with fervor and conviction, but it was abundantly clear by the development of the meeting that day that these things are going to happen, but that will only happen if the people are united and work together to make it happen. Yes, God is present and active, but present and active in the action of the people!

I walk with these questions: With whom am I praying? For what am I praying, are we praying? Do I believe God is present and active and that my action, our action makes God present and active?

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