I wonder why the ruling party chooses to retain the word ‘Front’ in its title? It was part of the title chosen by their predecessors in government when, in the early 1960s, they chose a military title for theirs. Then it was a ‘front’ against any black advancement and the Zambezi was often invoked as a frontier with chaos ‘to the north of us’, a chaos against which they were determined to build a solid defence.

Knowingly or unknowingly, our present government retains – not only the word, with its militaristic connotation – but the attitude of ‘we’ and ‘them’ which was the coinage of the Rhodesians. Every decision, every policy, was then, and is now, underwritten by an outlook that kept, and keeps, the front in place. You may advance so far but no further. We, on this side of the front, intend to keep things as they are.

A front can be a barrier. And a barrier is a sign of fear. But it can also be an invitation. And then it becomes a sign of growth. ‘Look to him and be radiant; so your faces will never be ashamed’, cries the psalmist (34:5) and when Peter was in the depths of his humiliation, ‘Jesus turned and looked straight at him’ (Luke 22:61). It was a look of love and compassion but it was also a con-front-ation. Peter was a new man from that moment. To face someone or something can be a moment of healing. To engage with people who are different from us, opens us up.

‘Engage’ was the catchword of the French youth in 1968, and when it comes to revolutions, as usual, the French like to be out in front – that word again! After all, the phrase avant-garde is theirs. In Matthew’s sermon on the mountain, Jesus is explicitly avant-garde; he moves beyond the front the Jews had built. ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors …’ about killing, adultery, and the rest. ‘But I say this to you …’ and he goes far beyond the frontier the Jews had built and probes the deeper meaning of relationships between people. He knows it will be tough to break down the barriers but he puts the choice all the same: ‘fire and water is placed before you, choose what you prefer,’ (Ben Sira 15:15).

To face someone or something can be a liberation. People choose to visit the sick – not just their relatives, the handicapped and those in prison. Often, they will say, ‘I receive far more than I give.’

12 February 2023       Sunday 6A      Sir 15:15-20        1 Cor 2:6-10           Matt 5:17-37

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