Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The LORD Takes Delight In His People

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Brothers and sisters:
How can any one of you with a case against another
dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment
instead of to the holy ones?
Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world?
If the world is to be judged by you,
are you unqualified for the lowest law courts?
Do you not know that we will judge angels?
Then why not everyday matters?
If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters,
do you seat as judges people of no standing in the Church?
I say this to shame you.
Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough
to be able to settle a case between brothers?
But rather brother goes to court against brother,
and that before unbelievers?

Now indeed then it is, in any case,
a failure on your part
that you have lawsuits against one another.
Why not rather put up with injustice?
Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?
Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers.
Do you not know that the unjust
will not inherit the Kingdom of God?
Do not be deceived;
neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers
nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves
nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers
will inherit the Kingdom of God.
That is what some of you used to be;
but now you have had yourselves washed,
you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ
and in the Spirit of our God.
Today we hear of Christians at Corinth suing one another before pagan judges in Roman courts. A barrage of rhetorical questions betrays Paul’s anger over this practice, which he sees as an infringement upon the holiness of the Christian community. It seems that he is speaking of civil cases involving property rather than criminal cases which would rightly be dealt with by the state.

He refers to the secular courts as the “lawcourts of the unjust”. He is not actually accusing these courts of corruption but saying that the judges, who were pagans, had not, like the Christians, been “justified” by baptism in Christ. How then could “unjustified” people pass judgement on those who were “justified”, namely, the “saints”, the members of the Christian community?

The Corinthians should take their property cases before qualified Christians for settlement. In Paul’s day the Romans allowed the Jews to apply their own law in property matters, and since the Romans did not consider Christians as a separate class from the Jews, Christians no doubt had the same rights.

Those who have the vision of life that Christ gives are in a position, together with him, to “judge the (pagan) world” rather than be judged by it, especially in “trifling cases”. Paul is appealing to an eschatological prerogative promised to Christians: they are to share with Christ in the judgement of the world. All the more, they should be able to judge minor cases within their own community. And they will evaluate such situations from a different standpoint, namely, that of the Gospel. (Morality and law can come to very different conclusions.)

Instead, these cases are being brought before people for whose moral views the Church can have no real respect, namely, pagan judges. Or, to put it in another way, the most insignificant members of the church community would be in a better position to solve these cases among Christians. “You should be ashamed: is there really not one reliable man among you to settle differences between brothers and so one brother brings a court case against another in front of unbelievers?”

In fact, adds Paul, it is bad enough that they are having recourse to the law courts at all. Is it so bad to be cheated in relatively small matters when there are much more serious moral issues at stake (which will never find them before a court of law)? On the contrary, the real problem is that Corinthian Christians are cheating and committing moral wrongs to their brothers in the faith. And no one who does wrong can inherit the kingdom of God, which is a kingdom of love and justice, of compassion and forgiveness.

Paul gives a list of some of the things he is referring to: people who practise idolatry (especially where it is done to avoid persecution or to accommodate pagan family and friends); adulterers; catamites, that is, male prostitutes; sodomites, that is, those who indulged in homosexual behaviour, specifically anal sex; thieves and (almost the same thing) usurers (‘loan sharks’); drunkards; slanderers (destroying the good name of others even when the accusations are true); cheats of all kinds.

Three forms of sexual immorality are identified: adultery (sexual relations where at least one partner is married to someone else); male prostitutes and males who have sexual relations with other males. In Romans 1:26 Paul also includes females who practise homosexuality. All such behaviour is quite incompatible with being under the kingship of God. His kingdom cannot contain such people.

(We might say here that in Paul’s time the concept of homosexuality as a psychosocial ‘orientation’ would have been unknown. That there were people who habitually acted in this way would have been known. It is possible that the term ‘eunuch’ sometimes referred to such people. For Paul, however, men or women having sex with people of their own gender was seen as a violation of their nature.)

Before their conversion, the Corinthian “saints”, Paul says, were all like this once but now they have been “washed clean” by baptism, sanctified (made “saints”) by the Spirit, and justified, put right with God. This has been done - and here Paul uses a Trinitarian phrase - in and through “the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God”.

Today we are living in an age when people more and more are having recourse to the courts to “get justice”. Such cases so often end up in terrible bitterness and recrimination. This is especially true in the breakdown of marriage relationships or in other family disputes. All too often the ultimate goal is not justice but (sometimes enormous) financial gain.

The Gospel recommends that, where possible, such problems should be worked out between the persons involved or at least within the Christian community. The ultimate goal should, first of all, that true justice be done to all parties concerned followed by reconciliation and a healing of wounds. Courts should only be a last resort.

And, where Christians are concerned, they are not to be turned into instruments of punishment and recrimination.*
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Psalm 149
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Sing to the LORD a new song
of praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion rejoice in their king.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Let them praise his name in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches;
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
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Luke 6:12-19
Jesus departed to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.
When day came, he called his disciples to himself,
and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles:
Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew,
James, John, Philip, Bartholomew,
Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon who was called a Zealot,
and Judas the son of James,
and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
And he came down with them and
stood on a stretch of level ground.
A great crowd of his disciples
and a large number of the people
from all Judea and Jerusalem
and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon
came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases;
and even those who were tormented
by unclean spirits were cured.
Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him
because power came forth from him and healed them all.
We move on now to a different phase in Luke’s story and some very crucial sayings of Jesus.

Jesus, we are told, went up into the mountains to pray and spent the whole night there in prayer to God. Some might wonder what Jesus would have to pray about. Such a question may reveal a limited concept of what prayer is. It is not just a question of asking for things. It is even less a question of fulfilling a religious duty, “saying our prayers”.

Prayer is ultimately making contact with God, the beginning and end of all things. It makes a lot of sense that Jesus would have wanted to be in intimate contact with his Father and to have spent long periods with him. One of Jesus’ main concerns was that he do the will of his Father. Prayer was one way of making sure that there was completely harmony with that will.

Luke’s gospel shows Jesus at prayer more than any of the others. He also shows Jesus praying before all the important stages in his public life. As soon as this period of prayer was over, he called together his disciples and from them he chose twelve as apostles.

We know that among those who came to hear Jesus was a group, comprising both men and women, who regularly followed him and were committed to his teachings. Elsewhere we know of 72 such disciples who were sent out on a mission to do what Jesus was doing. After the ascension, we are told of 120 believers waiting for the coming of the Spirit. It is from these that Jesus chooses 12 to be Apostles, with a special mandate to continue his mission for the Kingdom. Although the order of names varies in the different gospels, the list is always headed by Peter while Judas is placed last.

We can sometimes be rather casual in our use of the terms ‘disciples’ and ‘apostles’ but they have very distinct meanings. The word ‘disciple’ is applied to any person who commits himself to be a follower of Jesus. The word ‘disciple’ comes from a word which means ‘to learn’. There is a passive element present, in the sense of the disciple sitting at the feet of the guru and learning from him. Jesus’ disciples regularly called him ‘Rabbi’ or teacher. ‘Apostle’ however has a much more active meaning. It refers to a person who goes out as an emissary, delegated to pass on information or commands or instructions to others on behalf of some authority.

In the Gospel, the word ‘apostle’ first applies to the twelve people who were especially chosen by Jesus to hand on his message. They would, after the departure of Jesus, become the foundation stones of the new community. In them would be invested the integrity of the original message and it would be up to them to interpret its acceptable developments. They were the beginnings of what we call today the “magisterium”, the teaching body of the Church responsible for the maintenance of the integrity of the Gospel message.

In this, as in all the lists of the Apostles, the first person listed is Simon, whose name is now changed to Peter. (In Matthew, the change is made at Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, Matthew 16:18.) There are variations of the Apostles’ names in all the lists. Bartholomew here seems to be the same as Nathanael in John (cf. 1:45) and is associated with Philip. Matthew seems to correspond to Levi (cf. Mark 2:13ff.). James, son of Alphaeus, is probably the same as James the younger, not the brother of John (Mark 15:40). The other Simon is called a Zealot. This could be either to describe his religious zeal or indicate his membership in the party of the Zealots, a Jewish revolutionary group violently opposed to Roman rule. Judas, the son of James is another name for Thaddaeus (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18). Also known as Jude to distinguish him from the other Judas, who always appears last in the lists. ‘Iscariot’ may mean that he comes from Kerioth. The town Kerioth Hezron was about 19 km south of Hebron and appears in the Old Testament (Joshua 15:25; Jeremiah 48:24).

We know, of course, that one of the chosen failed utterly and betrayed his Master. He was replaced by Matthias. Later, too, Paul - who never saw the pre-resurrection Jesus - would be called to be an Apostle. And the term would also be applied to a few others in the New Testament, e.g. Barnabas, a missionary colleague of Paul.

Secondly, however, the word ‘apostle’ applies to every baptised Christian. All of us, one way or another, are called to pass on the Gospel message so that others can hear and respond. There are many ways we can do this. One thing, though, is clear; it is not enough for us to be simply disciples, passive followers.

Immediately following the call of the Twelve comes what is really Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. Significantly, for him it is going to take place in a plain, down on the ground in the midst of all the people. So his version is sometimes known as the “Sermon on the Plain”. It somehow indicates the humility of Jesus and his closeness to the people while Matthew uses the more biblical concept of a mountain as the place where God reveals himself.

Jesus is surrounded by all his disciples, his newly chosen apostles, and a huge crowd from Judea and Jerusalem, from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, including both Jews and non-Jews. They all came to listen to Jesus and to be healed. And they were all eager to touch him physically because a certain power went out from Jesus and brought healing to all.

Let us then hear today the call of Jesus, first to be his disciples, totally committed to accepting and assimilating his message; second, to accepting the responsibility to spread the Gospel actively through the way we live our lives, through the way we speak, and through the relationships we establish with people; thirdly, let us reach out and touch Jesus so that we may experience his healing wherever we need it.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

The reading from Corinthians shows today's Gospel to me in the light of setting up a Christian infrastructure to administer the Law.

The leaders of the synagogue want Jesus dead, so He cannot administer the Law through them. After a night of prayer on the mountain He comes down (like Moses) and appoints leaders among his followers who will deliver the Law to everyone. Then He preaches the Law to apostles and disciples alike. This means that the disciples know that what the apostles teach is true. Disciples can therefore easily weed out false teachings and false apostles, without even having to wait and see what kind of fruit they bear.

'neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God.'

Yesterday Paul referred to the morality of pagans, which reminded me of the terrible behaviour of Roman leaders as they struggled 'to have and to hold' power. This list of failings refers, I think, to the all too human frailties of the lawmakers of Corinth, who would seem little better than their Roman overlords. By saying that they will never inherit the Kingdom, Paul makes it plain that they will never be qualified to judge anyone as long as they are merrily fornicating etc. away. ... Which brings us to our own lawmakers ..!

Tabloid-type newspapers love to catch modern lawmakers out in such weaknesses. Despite the fact that only the 'thieves' and 'robbers' would actually be breaking any law, ordinary people are scandalized. I see the 'boy prostitutes' as ambitious young men who trade sexual favours for advancement - these days women have ample opportunity to do the same thing. The newspapers would not be interested if there weren't still a feeling among mere commoners that politicians who behave like this forfeit the right to lay down the law for the community.

The lawmakers of Israel wanted Jesus dead - that resonates today too!