Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favour – a reflection by Mary Lysecki
Theological Reflection – Sunday February 17, 2013
The Reverend Mary Lysecki is the rector at St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church in Winnipeg, MB. Mary is currently a member of the national church’s Healing Response Committee; is the Anglican representative on the support group for the director of the Centre for Christian Studies in Winnipeg; is co-chair of Sisters in Spirit, Winnipeg Chapter; and co-chair of the board of the North Point Douglas Women’s Centre. Mary has a Masters of Divinity degree, and together with her husband Burton, has raised four children and been a partner in their bookstore – Burton Lysecki Books in Winnipeg.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus declares, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to:
bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
And then the clincher – “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
David Lose says, “This is not ‘good news’ in general, but rather good news for the poor. It is not just release, but release to those who are captive, sight to those who are blind, freedom to those who are oppressed.
So while Jesus’ message is good news, in order for us to hear it that way it must first strike us as bad news, the bad news that that we are not who we want to be, can be, and should be…and we never will be. Jesus comes bringing good news to those in need, and those who don’t see and admit their need want nothing to do with him.”
I’d like to share with you my experience of discovering that I was blind.
It began when I first started hearing allegations of abuse at Indian Residential Schools. The churches and the government were being sued successfully for sexual and physical abuse of students in church-run, government-funded schools. I read a book called A National Crime: Indian Residential Schools in Canada by James Milloy. I could remember the Indian Residential School that used to be on the corner of Academy Road and Kenaston Boulevard when I was growing up. I realized I had known and yet not known about Indian Residential Schools all my life. I was beginning to realize I was blind.
I began to get angry. I thought my church and my country had lied to me. I felt I had been made to be complicit in a crime without my permission; that I had been deliberately blinded.
After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gathering in Winnipeg, the Very Reverend Stan McKay was asked, “Where do we go from here?” He suggested that we needed to learn about the treaties, and, as Christians, reflect on the treaties in the light of our understanding of covenant. He recommended reading Compact, Contract, Covenant: Aboriginal Treaty-Making in Canada by J.R. Miller. So I did. I discovered that the treaties started in the Maritimes as treaties of alliance, and that, from the beginning the First Nations and the colonizing nations had different understandings of what that meant. For the people of Turtle Island to enter into treaty was similar to an adoption. Those they were allied with were like family – we are kin, I’ll get your back, and you’ll get mine. So in the war between England and France, the Iroquois fought with the English and the Algonquians fought with the French. First Nations people cured the early settlers of scurvy, provided guides for “exploration” and for their part Europeans learned local languages, and provided valuable iron trade goods. But the treaties were compacts to Europeans, pledges of allegiance. They were sacred covenants to First Nations resulting in a relationship of brother to brother.
As more and more Europeans settled in North America, and as fighting amongst them came to an end after the War of 1812, they found less and less need for compacts of alliance with First Nations. However they wanted to be able to settle peacefully on land that belonged to First Nations people. First Nations were willing to share the land, but they began to want to save some for their own exclusive use, because they could see that farming and fence-building were detrimental to hunting and fishing. Now the treaties were seen by Europeans as contracts for the use of the land. First Nations people still understood them to be covenants creating familial rights and responsibilities.
After confederation the Canadian government’s concern was to consolidate the country; to keep it out of the hands of the Americans. So Canada purchased Rupert’s Land from the Hudson’s Bay Co. and built a railway to the west coast as fast as possible. The First Nations people who were already living in what the Hudson’s Bay Co. had called Rupert’s Land were surprised and dismayed to find surveyors arriving to divide up the land into lots for settlers from Ontario. And so began the Riel rebellion. From 1871 onward, it seemed as if the government of Canada made treaties with First Nations people because it was a cheaper way of getting the land than fighting for it.
I listened to “Ideas” on CBC one night and heard the documentary about the creation of Treaty 9. The diaries of the two Canadians who traveled up to James Bay to make treaty with the people who lived there revealed that what the First Nations people were told the treaty said, and what the written treaty said, were substantially different. In other words that treaty was not made with informed consent.
I was beginning to see. I felt like the blind man that Jesus’ healed in Mark’s gospel. When Jesus asked him, “Can you see anything?” he replied, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” Mk 8:22 I could see the relationship between colonizers and First Nations people now but so much is still unclear.
Friends say things like, “But aren’t we doing our fair share? They can hunt and fish wherever and whenever they want, we spend millions of tax dollars on them, and they keep asking for more.”
It now seems to me this is like complaining that your landlord can come and go as he pleases, and no matter how long you’ve been paying rent, he still wants more. He even wants to raise the rent from time to time.
Because that is the legal arrangement we have with First Nations people. The treaties are about sharing the land.
The question I have now is – How will I, as part of the body of Christ, now at least partly healed of blindness, be Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and ears, to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour?