Body and Blood of Christ

Lectio

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Radical, Humble, Compassionate

Addressing the people and his disciples, Jesus said, "The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say; but do not be guided by what they do, since they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people's shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearing broader phylacteries and longer tassels, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.
You, however, must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers.  You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one Teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted."                    
                                                                                 
Matthew 23:1-12                                                

 


Lectio

Think of the people you are afraid of because of the positions they hold.  It may be a position that gives them authority over you in the place where you work or in the community in which you live.  It may be a position that gives them a high standing in society – school principal, doctor, solicitor, Garda inspector, government minister - you may feel inferior in their presence and are afraid you will not measure up. In their presence you may be keenly aware of whatever it is that makes you feel inadequate, be it personal appearance, lack of education, loss of a job, shortage of money or family background. I invite you to read again what Jesus said in the Gospel passage above, and see how that may encourage you to have a different attitude to those you fear.     
                
Inferior to no one                                                                                     
As is often the case, the Gospel story with its scribes and Pharisees, its rabbis and synagogues, seems far removed from the concerns of our lives today.  But if we look closely we see that Jesus says something that deals directly with our everyday relationships between people.  He tells us not consider ourselves above any other person, and not consider ourselves beneath any other person either.  First he says,‘You must call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father and he is in heaven.’ He is not saying that we should not respect our parents and call them ‘mother’ and ‘father.’ He is telling us not to consider ourselves less that any other human being; we are not inferior to anyone. If we believed these words in the depth of our hearts and souls, what a difference they would make to the way we feel about other people and about ourselves!

                                                                                                              
Superior to no one
Jesus also says:‘You must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi, since you have only one Master, and you are all brothers. Nor must you allow yourselves to be called teachers, for you have only one teacher, the Christ.’ In other words we are not to consider ourselves above any other human being. 

A community of equals
Jesus formed his followers into a community which he called ‘my church.’ He intended that all its members would be equal. The apostles would be leaders, but they were there to serve their sisters and brothers. At a key moment in his life – it was the night before he died - he washed the apostles’ feet and told them, ‘If I have washed your feet, you should wash each others feet.’ In such a community, people could flourish and live their lives to the full as equal members of one family, and as beloved sons and daughters of God. 

The anger of Jesus then
When we see this vision that Jesus had for his church and for the world, we can understand why he was so angry with the religious leaders of his time. Far from treating others as equals, they wanted the people to look up to them: ‘Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and the front seats in the synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in the market squares and having people call them Rabbi.’ Jesus was aware that this attitude of privilege and superiority, and the behaviour that accompanied it, were deeply damaging to the community which these leaders were meant to serve. 
In the early centuries of Christianity, Jesus’ followers were often persecuted and were without power or status in the pagan world in which they lived. In the year 313 the Roman Emperor Constantine was converted and gave the Christians freedom to practice their faith; in 380 Christianity became the official religion of the empire.  With this came power, privilege and money for the Church. Bishops and priests took over titles and modes of dress from the emperor’s court. Within the Church itself the bishops and priests held a superior position to the laity and were not accountable to them. 
                             
The anger of Jesus now                                                                              
In this present time we see clearly how much damage this notion of superiority has done.  Priests could commit crime and expect to go unpunished.  Parents were reluctant to report these crimes to the civil authorities out of respect for the clergy. It was hard for a bishop to consider reporting a priest to the civil authorities or dismissing him from the priesthood.

The angry voice of Jesus who challenged the religious leaders of his time has been heard again today. That anger is felt by those who remain in the Church as well as in those who have walked away.  Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave expression to it when he described the Vatican’s response to clerical sexual abuse in Ireland as calculated and withering. He said that this response was ‘the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded.’ Then he repeated these words: ‘The radicalism, humility and compassion which are the very essence of its foundation and purpose.’ He was remembering Jesus the founder; may these words of the Taoiseach be prophetic for the Church in Ireland and for the Church in Rome.

Brendan Clifford

Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank you for your radical words which assure us that no one on earth is above or below anyone else. Give us the courage to call no one on earth our father since we have only one Father.  Give us the humility not to allow ourselves be called rabbi or teacher, because we are all your sisters and brothers.


 

Quill Pen

rabbi

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