Sunday, October 06, 2013

If your heart is as my heart ...

Lamentations 1:1-6
Romans 3:21-31
Luke 17:1-10

"Thought we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?  May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?"  John Wesley

Among the many challenges we face in our Sunday evening study of the First Testament is that of the diverse opinions we have, opinions we have come by honestly from our own diverse traditions; and some, admittedly, rather carelessly.  That is, we have traditional understandings we have probably not tested carefully enough.  Sort of like how so many atheists and Protestants are misunderstanding Pope Francis because of what someone else told them he said (or meant); for instance, that the pope said homosexuality is ok.  No, he did not.  He affirmed that "the Church's teachings are clear".  Or that the pope said being an atheist is ok.  No, he did not.  Opinions can be good, but often they can do more harm than good if these opinions are not based on some real, first-hand knowledge and experience and tested through tradition and Scriptures.

The Church universal has historically faced and continues to face a profound threat when we allow uninformed personal and political opinions based on second-hand information or "the hairs on the back of the neck" to trump the essential nature of the Holy Church, the nature of which is to serve just as our Lord came "not to be served but to serve".  When we lose sight of this - and I think we did a long time ago - it is the children who get stuck between what we grown ups think and what we should know

What we are left with is an age of confusion that feeds on itself from generation to generation - and our children are in perpetual danger of losing sight of and forgetting altogether the essential sacrificial love that is perfected in Christ and should be personified in His Body the Holy Church; the sacrificial love that can bind us together ... if we are willing to put aside "our own" for the sake of the Lord's own.  This concept of service for the sake of something greater than self is, thankfully, exemplified and embodied in Scouting; making these young men and their leaders worthy of our support, prayers, and encouragement!  Keep them free from politics and personal opinions, and just let them serve!

We will not always agree on what are essentially disagreeable opinions.  Not about denominational doctrine, not about what constitutes proper worship, not about the Sacraments of the Church or theology in general, and certainly not about politics.  For the sake of the Holy Church we of the faithful, however, must necessarily agree with our Lord who more or less puts us in our place in Luke's gospel by reminding us that His "slaves ... have done only what we ought to have done".  Not what we think should have been done, not what we felt like doing when we felt like doing it, and certainly not doing in anticipation of some reward or individual recognition of achievement.  No, our Lord is clear there are things we "ought" to do simply because they need to be done.  Period.  No reward.  No thank you.  No recognition.  Just integrity within the true nature and character of His Church.

Before we even get to this point, however, Jesus still has much to say.  Even if this whole text seems somewhat disjointed, there is a connection, a common element that ties everything together.  Strangely enough, however, even this connecting point is not something many disciples are willing to agree on.  Jesus is very clear that we have duties.  We have duties which go beyond a personal profession of faith.  We have duties to our Master, and we have equal duty to our fellow disciples.  Together as the Church - the Body of Christ - we have a duty to the communities we are called to serve. 

It is especially important to allow the preceding story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) to lead us into this discourse because the duty imparted to the rich man, to his brothers, and to all of Israel is what was revealed to them by "Moses and the prophets"; what they would have known as the "Holy Scriptures".  The clear duty which comes from the Lord on High, the duty to have been embraced by the faithful, would have assured that Lazarus would never have been allowed to fester in his misery and die an excruciating death - alone. 

So we come into chapter 17 and find Jesus expounding on the idea of what a community of faith is supposed to look like, what our Holy Father surely envisioned when the Law was revealed to Moses.  As our Jewish friend from last week had plainly stated, it's not about how to get to heaven (that is, worrying only about saving your own cheese); it is about how to live with and for one another for the well-being of the entire community.  Chief among these duties is the protection of the "little ones", the next generation, be they biological children or new believers.  They need to be taught - by Word and deed.  It will not simply occur to them one day somehow by magic.  And Divine revelation and epiphany without context will be meaningless.

Notice also that Jesus is referring to our relations with those of our community of faith when "another disciple sins" (vs 3).  We have as much a duty to call our fellow disciple on his or her sin as we do to forgive that fellow disciple who seeks forgiveness.  It seems to me there cannot be one without the other which is another way of saying the disciple may not realize the depth of his or her offense as "sin" if we are not willing to make it known, if we do not care about them enough to teach them - not to merely criticize them.  Then we are to be as patient with them as we all must surely hope our Lord is patient with us!

The disciples' response is rather surprising, though I would suppose faith to be the thing to ask for.  After all, Jesus is telling His disciples to forgive without condition.  Our Lord does not recommend it nor suggest it; He says, "You must forgive."  For most of us, this is a pretty tall order!  What will an "increase in faith" do for the disciples, though?  How will having more faith make forgiving an offense easier?  Or maybe it won't become easier to do more than it might be a little easier to swallow our pride when after the seventh offense, the offender comes to us yet again seeking forgiveness - no matter how we may have been personally harmed! 

But I don't think Jesus is letting us off the hook so easily because Jesus clearly states that faith the "size of a mustard seed" can do remarkable things.  So it is not necessarily more faith we need, for even a little faith can "move mountains".  Think of this request in the whole context, and what we may discover is that Jesus is telling them they already have sufficient faith. 

How much faith they actually have, however, is as immeasurable as yours or mine - although I would suggest we each may have a cut-off point at which time fear may overwhelm our faith.  Then more "faith" would come in quite handy, but Jesus is not going there.  He is talking about something much more enveloping, much more all-encompassing, much more communal. 

Especially moving into that "slave thing" which would obviously rub many of us the wrong way - after all, we are Americans! - Jesus may be suggesting we are going to need a little more than faith imparted.  Remember the Bible teaches us that faith, true faith, is given from Above.  To understand how this faith matters beyond self, however, is going to require something from us: first the will to respond.  And secondly the gumption to respond.  So in faith the Lord is going to do His part to give us what we need to respond.  In fact Jesus seems to suggest this much has already been done.  So then comes our response.

We respond not for bragging rights.  We respond not for individual achievement or recognition. We respond because our "neighbor" needs us to respond.  We respond because our community needs us to respond.  We respond because our nation needs us to respond!  We respond because Divine Love compels us to respond, and we respond because in the faith that is imparted to us we are assured that others will respond for us as well.  We respond not to "earn" anything for ourselves, for we already have the assurance of the Resurrection of our Lord. 

You and I may not agree on the finer points of doctrine and we may not agree on political philosophy - and we will NEVER agree on rooting for LSU or UofA! - but I think we can agree that the essential nature of the Church, the essential nature of the Body of Christ, is to "do" for our Lord by "doing" for His loved ones just as surely as He did for His beloved Israel, just as surely as He did for His beloved Church - long before we had a chance to love Him, our Lord clearly loves us first!

Let us agree on this, and we will find much less to disagree about.  After all, we do not want to be mistaken as members of the Congress, do we?  To the Glory of His Holy Name, let the people of the Lord say, Amen!    

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