June 20, 2010 (12th Ordinary)

Today’s Readings (text):

  • Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1
  • Ps 63:2-9
  • Galatians 3:26-29
  • Luke 9:18-24

Tony Hayward is not feeling very happy these days. He’s the chief executive of BP, the company that drilled the well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, the well that exploded on April 20 for unknown reasons, costing 11 lives, dumping millions of gallons of crude oil into the gulf and threatening the environment and wildlife.

Here is an excerpt from Mr Hayward’s prepared statement to Congress, delivered in testimony on June 17:

As the scope of the unfolding disaster became more apparent, we reached out to additional scientists and engineers from our partners and competitors in the energy industry, as well as engineering firms, academia, government and the military. Among the resources that have been made available:

• Drilling and technical experts who are helping determine solutions to stopping the spill and mitigating its impact, including specialists in the areas of subsea wells, environmental science and emergency response;

• Technical advice on blowout preventers, dispersant application, well construction and containment options;

• Additional facilities to serve as staging areas for equipment and responders, more remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) for deep underwater work, barges, support vessels and additional aircraft, as well as training and working space for the Unified Command.

Events leading up to the explosion suggest that opportunities were missed that could have kept it from happening. Why didn’t we bring all these resources Mr Hayward talks about to bear back then? Mr Hayward acknowledges at the beginning of the excerpt above that the company waited until the scope of the disaster had become apparent. Why on Earth did they wait that long? Anyway, at least there is now some measure of a response.

The answer to why we waited so long may be that it is not in our human nature to give freely like that unless we’re backed into a corner, as the government has backed BP into a corner. We just don’t do stuff like that unless we have to. Cows don’t do it either: They won’t just walk up to you and give you their milk. They have to be coerced into a stall so they can’t get away. Even then, they only give about 10 liters of milk per session. Now that there’s a disaster in the gulf, BP gives us 10 liters from its udder.

Continuing with our little analogy, BP has offered to devote a vast number of resources to the clean-up and recovery. And perhaps because this altruism is sort of unexpected and not exactly according to human nature, people are confused about how they should respond. Should we stop drilling offshore? Or, should we send this company as much help as we possibly can?

Happily, it wasn’t like that with God. The Romans didn’t actually have to nail him to the cross in order for him to die. As was foretold in today’s Old Testament reading, God “will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced … as one grieves over a firstborn.”

Our Lord gave his life willingly as he “poured it out,” thousands of years before we were born, so that we might be saved from the sins of this worldly existence. He didn’t wait until after we had sinned. Thank God for that!

Many people don’t know quite how to respond to our Lord’s free giving of salvation, either, and I suppose the main reason for our confusion is that his act of laying down his life for those who believed in him is not really part of our human nature. If our confused response to BP’s offer to clean up an oil spill and make financial amends to people who have been put out by it says anything about human nature, how much more confusing must it be for people to figure out how to respond to God’s offer of salvation!

Lucky for us, Jesus isn’t only human. What is human nature for us (trying to escape anything that makes us empty ourselves) was not part of God’s plan for him: He gave his life freely, as he says in John 10:18 and in today’s gospel passage from Luke: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

If only BP had followed our Lord’s example and freely devoted all these resources before they were backed into a corner, the whole situation might have been avoided.

We take so much of this for granted. What we should be doing is giving thanks: to both BP executives for giving what they can to clean up the mess they made and to Jesus for giving everything he had to save our souls.

How should we do that? Well, for BP, the answer is easy: We should work with them in every way we can in order to determine the best way not only to clean up the current disaster but to prevent catastrophes like this from happening in the future. If we can only accomplish that by cornering them to counter their human (or corporate) nature, then so be it.

But as Mr Hayward said, “we will not rest until we stop this well, mitigate the environmental impact of the spill and address economic claims in a responsible manner. No resource available to this company will be spared. We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event and emerge from it stronger, smarter and safer.” On the face of it, if BP lives up to that promise, it sounds good to me.

In terms of Christ, the original gift was much greater, and our thanks should be complete, as he tells us himself:

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

To reframe Mr Hayward’s words, let us emerge stronger from our sinful lives, emptying ourselves of everything we have and giving it to our neighbors out of love, as a way of giving thanks to our Lord for his free and not-exactly-human gift of salvation.

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