HOMILY – 3rd Sunday [B] – 2018                       [Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20]

As a society, New Zealanders are worried about the high rate of suicide, notably among our youth – but also among farmers facing economic ruin.  How terrible to judge the only way out of your trouble is to kill yourself. Historically, society has regarded suicide as an offence against the community, emphasising no one has the right to decide when and how to end their life.

David Seymour’s “End of Life Choice Bill” now before Parliament and the public, lifts dying to another level.  It tells me that I do have a right to decide when I will die and, if I can’t make it happen on my own then I will also have a right to get someone else to help me.  But that person will have to be a “medical practitioner”, someone who has spent years training to be able to help me live.  Conflict of interest and of conscience meet in a state sponsored Bill that, if passed, will allow that medical practitioner to intentionally kill me.

With my permission, of course!  But how that permission is obtained, and how competent I might be to give my permission are very murky areas.  And should society be encouraging its members to drop out when the going gets too tough?  The proponents of the End of Life Choice Bill, are no doubt well intentioned, providing for a situation where a person can ask to have their death hastened when their suffering becomes intolerable.  But need it be?

An unexpected news item this week announced the appointment by the British government of a “Minister for Loneliness”.  It’s in response to a report finding that as many as nine million Britons are often or always lonely.  NZ has no plans to do anything similar – but think what loneliness does to a person: it cuts you off, isolates you, affects your identity, you’re in the way, valueless.

The elderly left and forgotten in a Rest Home; the disabled or deeply troubled, left to fend for themselves…  Without family, friends, or any quality company; when you can’t see more to life, it would be so easy to choose to die; with no one to help you understand your sickness, live with you through it, or help you harness it and make it work for you, then why wouldn’t you ask for help to die?

I have been with many people struggling with the news that there is no treatment for their sickness, and I have witnessed remarkable transformations as people seemingly without hope have responded to the care of those committed to helping them see more to life make the most of remaining time.

The Hospice Movement is an essential component of this kind of care, offering not only pain relief, but emotional, personal and spiritual support to every member of the family – ensuring the sick person can live well until death.  We should be taking loneliness more seriously.  I’m sure it features in making the end of life feel like the only choice.  Great public education and more resources in hospice care could make the End of Life Choice Bill unnecessary.

If we’re worried about suicide, we should be even more worried about everyone having a legal right to decide when they will die.  Over time such a right will become easy to manipulate and difficult to control.

Jonah was sent on a mission to help the people of Nineveh turn their lives around – to see more than self, and recover their sense of community.  Jesus called his first followers to a similar mission.  As fisherfolk they knew the importance of working together; they were to put those skills into building a community where the care of one another took priority.

To care is to love, and everyone responds to genuine, unselfish love – especially the sick, even someone who seems to be beyond reach, unresponsive.  None of us really wants to die.  Love helps us live beyond death.