Rainbows & Papayas: A Lenten Reflection
Genesis 9:8-17; Psalm 25:1-10; Mark 1:9-15
“Where is God?” was a question many people asked as Hurricane Mitch pounded Honduras in 1998. The mudslides, tidal surges, and raging rivers washed away some 9,000 lives. Where was God? What had happened to that covenant made with Noah to never again destroy all life by water? Where was God?
Some said God had sent the storm to punish Honduras.
A few months later, I led a retreat with women who lived in rural areas badly hit by Hurricane Mitch. All of them were poor. All were active in their churches and communities. We gathered for a time of healing and reflection.
There were tears as we told the stories of what had happened when the hurricane came through each of our lives. When asked where God was, the women unanimously answered, “God was with us during the storm.” They refused to think that God had sent the storm. Instead, God had stood with the families struggling to survive it, had died under collapsed walls and buried villages, had held those who grieved and wept with them, then had picked up a hammer and was helping to build new homes.
María Reyna Euceda said that when the hurricane passed through, she went looking for water and couldn’t find any. Where there had been wells or springs, they only found muddy piles of dirt, rocks and trees. So they used a shovel to dig and found water. She said God was with them in the shovel.
Mercedes Maldanado explained how she and her neighbors had eaten all the food in their homes. They had no way to get more. The flooded river had taken out the road and the bridge. No one could get in and they couldn´t get out. Three days went by and the children were hungry. Mercedes went exploring and amidst the mud she found a papaya tree that had been knocked over, but because the papayas were green and hard they had not been destroyed. She cooked the papayas in three changes of water, in case the mud they had been lying in was contaminated by dead bodies and spilled chemicals. Then she made mashed papaya, and the children ate. She said God was with them in the papayas.
Marta Méndez told the group that her community had just started reconstructing their houses. God was still with them, she said, as they build new homes and new community. And they were not, she declared, simply rebuilding the same houses they had before. The old houses were not safe; they were built of a few sticks on land that no one else wanted, on a steep hill or on a riverbed. Now they were building a new community, where everyone would have a safe home on solid ground. We are building God´s Reign, she said.
God was there to put up the rainbow after the storm, but God was also with the people in the midst of the storm.
Might that be part of what Jesus was saying when he started his preaching ministry: that God is with us in the very midst of the storm?
The Jewish people are living under Roman domination. Several groups were trying to start an armed revolution to throw out the Roman army. Many religious leaders called for calm obedience to God’s rules of piety and purity. It was up to God to save the people. The popular prophet and baptizer, John, was arrested and hauled away.
It is in the midst of this turmoil and desperation that Jesus begins his ministry. He didn’t pick a convenient time, a happy time, a rainbow time. No. In the midst of the degradations of a conquered people, the confused shouts of conflicting leaders, and the sadness of John’s arrest, Jesus announces: Now is the right time; God’s rule is close, turn around and trust in the good news.
Jesus is announcing rainbows and papayas while the storm is still raging.
He is also declaring obedience to God’s Kingdom rather than the Roman’s Empire. He calls us to follow, to build the new world out of the rubble.
Jesus’ clarity about his allegiance to God’s Kingdom was a threat to the Romans, but also to the religious elite of his own people who had discovered many benefits in serving the Empire. They had him nailed to a cross.
Where do we stand? Where is our allegiance? What are the temptations that keep us from seeing that the time is now?
God is with us in the storm. Now. Turn. Look. See. Declare the good news of God’s new community, God’s new world. Now is the time to stand with those who are afraid, to share papayas with those who are hungry, dig for water with those who are thirsty, and build a new world where all God’s children have a safe place to live. Repent, and believe in the Kingdom of God.