Monday, January 25, 2016

One Body - or no body at all

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10                                                                                                                   1 Corinthians 12:12-31a                                                                                                                         Luke 4:14-21

“It must be absolutely clear that ecumenism, the movement promoting Christian Unity, is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity.  Rather, ecumenism is an organic part of the Church’s life and work.” Pope John Paul II

Until we as Christians learn to embrace the reality that Christ alone is our Teacher and that we are all capable of getting it wrong sometimes, the idea of unity within the whole Body of Christ will only be a theory to be studied in seminaries and talked about in seminars and workshops; and ecumenism will only be a $20 word no one really understands.

Yet Jesus proclaimed to His disciples that this unity is foundational; “By this all will know you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Not “fondness”.  Love.  A willingness to do according to genuine need even when we may not be particularly fond of those who need.

Jesus was also made aware (Luke 9:49-50) there were others “casting out demons in Your name”, but John found a problem with it only because that “someone” who was casting out demons was not a part John’s own little crowd.  Jesus, however, had no problem with it; “for he who is not against us is on our side”. 

This leads me to wonder what Jesus had said in the synagogue at Nazareth that caused such an uproar with the congregation.  Isaiah’s prophecy proclaims Messiah’s coming, so it is likely that a strict interpretation would have been rendered as Jesus claiming He was that fulfillment in His person, in His very presence. 

This is not wrong, of course, but other than reading into Jesus’ personal claim, what else could we take from Jesus’ proclamation since He only said, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing?  Could it be perhaps Jesus was not making a strictly “personal” declaration but was, instead, expressing a Divine Determination?

“The Spirit of The Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me …” 

First we should understand that in Hebrew, ‘anointed one’ means “messiah”.  In that language, then, we have to know there were others before Jesus who were ‘anointed’.  King Saul was ‘anointed’, and he turned out to be a disaster.  King David was also ‘anointed’, but he was not without problems of his own. 

The word “messiah” is rendered in Greek as “Christ”.  It is a Divine title, to be sure, as one can only be ‘anointed’ by The Lord.  Jesus had been baptized by the Baptizer and had just endured His encounter with the evil one in the wilderness.  I think it is safe to say the devil found Jesus to be so ‘anointed’, but Jesus did not personally overwhelm the devil.  Remember His weakened physical state!  The Word of The Lord, quoted faithfully by Jesus’ determination AND faithfulness, ran the devil off! 

Beyond alluding to having been personally ‘anointed’, what else has been said that is so remarkable, so unbelievable?  What other direct claim did Jesus make that would have been so offensive to this congregation?  “He has anointed Me to (and remember Jesus was quoting the prophet, reading directly from scroll of Isaiah) …

  • ·         Preach the Gospel (Good News) to the poor
  • ·         To heal the brokenhearted
  • ·         To proclaim liberty to the captives
  • ·         Recovery of sight to the blind
  • ·         To set at liberty those who are oppressed
  • ·         To proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord

My question, then, is this: what has Jesus claimed for Himself exclusively that is not the task of all who know The Lord, going back to Moses’ teaching of Israel as a “priestly nation”, the medium between Heaven and earth?  More specifically in our Christian context under the Great Commission, what does Jesus claim exclusively for Himself that is not the task of the individual Christian in union with the whole congregation, the united “ekklesia” of the people of God?

So let us consider how the Church today has been accused of rendering Isaiah’s prophecy. 
  • Preach the Ten Commandments (while proclaiming oneself “not under the law”)
  • ·         Heal the brokenhearted (unless they are getting what was coming to them)
  • ·         Proclaim liberty to the captives (but only those whom I deem to be innocent)
  • ·         Recovery of sight to the blind (as long as they learn to see it my way)
  • ·         To set at liberty those who are oppressed (but only if I am also oppressed)
  • ·         To proclaim the acceptable year of The Lord (but only when the time is convenient and acceptable for me)

I would agree we are faced with a lot that is morally objectionable and downright reprehensible and is tearing at the fabric of the nation and the Church, and I would agree the Church must have a stronger voice in this world than we have.  Yet I would submit to you that perhaps part of the reason we have lost our prophetic voice is that we have lost our sense of the Gospel itself as “good news” to anyone other than ourselves and those we deem to be worthy. 

This is the say, maybe people are not responding as we would like because we are not giving them the Good News to respond to.  We’re attempting to impose rules for them to abide by, rules they do not quite understand.  To repent from sin is one thing, but having an alternative to turn toward is something else altogether!  That is, if they refrain from sin as we would demand but then have nothing to turn toward, that would leave a void.  There would be nothing to turn to, and consequently they would likely revert back to what they have known for so long.

Now we know by the wisdom of the Spirit and the historic teachings of the Church that these so-called “rules” (i.e., “commandments”) are intended for the good of the greater community.  In fact there can be no real sense of community without them as it cannot simply be “to each his own”, but it must also be understood that these “rules” first apply to we who claim to be a part of a community.  We are the ones who claim to know, and so it is incumbent upon us to first learn to respect those “rules” so we may teach them in an uplifting and inspiring way. 

Attempting to impose THE LAW is how the Gospel as “good news” loses its luster and deeper meaning.  There is nothing to respond to; there is only something to either adhere to in fear or rebel against in spite.  Then we are left with no other actionable item except to choose “sides”.  And this happens within as well as outside the Church; that single Body with only One Head – Christ.

The reading from Nehemiah is hard to comprehend because the Law of Moses, as we now understand it, is the first five books of the whole Bible.  That’s a whole lot of reading.  Trying to narrow down to a guess as to exactly what Ezra was reading is maybe how we have guessed he must have been reading the Ten Commandments, but I think what he was reading exactly misses the point.  It is enough to say Ezra was reading the Holy Scriptures. 

What we must take from this, however, is not a matter of individual interpretation.  It is rather a matter of what it takes to define a community devoted to The Lord.  For the people of Judah it was who they are; who they were before they lost all sense of themselves and were driven into exile, and what they are being called once again to embrace. 

Jesus is indeed the Head of The Church and His claim as being the fulfillment of all the prophet proclaimed is not out of line.  However, the fulfillment of the Good News did not die with Jesus on the cross.  It is to be fulfilled in us, His Body.  All of us – Catholic and Protestant alike.  Before we can be effective witnesses for all we claim to believe, we cannot have enemies – not outside the Church, and certainly not within the Body itself.

Jesus did make a remarkable claim, but He did not make this claim exclusively for Himself nor did He make this claim in a spiritual void.  He expressed our God’s determination that the Good News will be for all for whom the News is Good.  There are many who have not heard the Good News as Good News!  So let us be about the business of the Body of Christ.  Let us be so determined to “go” and to “do” and to “teach” – and to “teach” well. 

Let us be One Body in Christ – or we are nothing at all.  Amen.

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