Top o’ the morning ta ya.
This past week people the world over celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Maybe they wore green; drank shamrock shakes; carried a ‘golden harp’; maybe even drank a pint of Guinness. Amidst the fun and revelry perhaps we need to remember who St Patrick was.
Years ago, a time “B.C.” (before children!), my wife and I travelled to Ireland. We went into many stone churches, cathedrals, and Celtic spiritual shrines. Almost all of them sported a mosaic of one form or another of St Patrick. Everyone claimed St Patrick as their own!
Patrick was a Bishop of Ireland in the 5th Century. But he was actually English, not Irish. A lad of 14, he was captured by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland to work as a slave. It took him six years to escape and to return to Britain. And that’s where the story ended, right? He farmed the land, married a comely wife, had lots of children, and lived out his days in peace?
Fortunately not. Back in England, Patrick went to study for the priesthood. And afterwards he went back to Ireland! Yes, he went back to Ireland to serve God there. He went back to the country where he’d been kidnapped to. Back to the place that must have held some violent and terrifying memories for him. Back to the people who had enslaved him.
He went back to Ireland not to seek revenge or to gloat over his captors. Instead he went back to minister to lost people who needed to be found. He went back to suffering people who needed to be healed. He went back to serve his enemies. He went back to love the people who had ruined his young life.
More than anything, let’s remember what St Patrick’s life really stood for. Let’s honour his life and follow his example by loving our enemies as well. And remembering that Love knows no borders. And Love knows no bounds. Love builds no walls. And Love trumps hate. Indeed, that we are called to Love our enemies.
St Patrick is honoured by both Protestants and Catholics in Ireland today. In this he crosses barriers; enemy barriers, violent barriers, barriers established by generations of brokenness and division. In South Africa, we too suffer the same barriers of division, colour, gender, class, politics, sexual identity, poverty, ‘group area’, and even church denomination.
Probably the same social divisions existed in the time of Jesus. And probably two occasions united them: when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the crowds cheered him, and then when the (same) crowds jeered to have Jesus crucified.
This Sunday we will remember the former. A time of jubilation that turned within days into baying for his blood. What caused such a radical change of heart? The gospels hint at an answer: Jesus messed with their religion! It’s always a dangerous thing to challenge people’s religion. Jesus told them to ‘love their enemies’, he invited them to trust him, and spoke about himself in terms of the Temple of God. (John 2: 19-21)
Perhaps one reason we honour St Patrick is because we recognise in him someone who was willing to live out his faith in Jesus. How about you? How will you ‘love your enemies’? Gossip? Skinder? A fast word? What will it take for your ‘hosannas’ to turn into ‘Barabbas’?
“Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”