Father Donald Senior, CP

What kind of church?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Oct. 30: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 11:22-12:2; 2 Thes 1:11-2:2; Lk 19:1-10

There is a constant debate going on today about what kind of church we should be. This is especially true in times of change or stress — times like we are in. Recently, I have read a number of articles proposing that the church should consider the “Benedictine option.” This “option” is defined in a number of ways but one constant feature is that, in the face of a sometimes hostile secular world, true Christians — like the monks of old — should band together to build an authentic Christian life sealed off from the corruptions of the world (one should note that such a viewpoint does not reflect the true spirit of the Benedictine community that intends to give an authentic witness of Christian life to the world).

Pope Francis proposes a very different vision of the church and is sometimes criticized for it. Instead of fleeing the world he constantly urges us to reach out to the world and bring to it the healing power of the Gospel.

This, in fact, is a strong emphasis of the Jubilee of Mercy, which the Pope declared last December and which is nearing its conclusion on Nov. 20. We are, in the pope’s words, to be “missionary disciples” and witness to the world in our words and actions the face of Christ, which is the “face of the Father’s mercy.”

The Scriptures for this 31st Sunday tip in the pope’s favor, I think. The reading from the Book of Wisdom declares that all of creation is good and beautiful because God has made it so. “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made!”

Here again is a powerful motif that runs through all of Bible, starting with the account of creation in Genesis 1: what God makes is good and beautiful, despite the effects of sin and violence that wound our world.

This is the spirit, too, of the Psalm response for this Sunday. We pray: “I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.” Why? Because, as Psalm 145 acclaims, “Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful ones bless you … The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.”

This Sunday we have yet another wonderful account from the Gospel of Luke that in its own way invites the followers of Jesus to reach out to the world around us. The story is that of Zacchaeus, described as “the chief tax collector and wealthy man” of Jericho.

As Jesus is passing through Jericho surrounded by a crowd, Zacchaeus, because he is short, has to climb a sycamore tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passes by. Wonder of wonders, Jesus stops and invites Zacchaeus to come down from his perch, “for today I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus is beside himself with joy but his neighbors “grumble” that Jesus would reach out to such a despised sinner, one who apparently has done his share of cheating his neighbors and growing wealthy at their expense. For his part, Zacchaeus is so touched by Jesus’ outreach that he swears on the spot to give half of his possessions to the poor and to repay “four times over” anyone he has cheated.

Jesus defends Zacchaeus, as a “descendent of Abraham” and reminds his disciples about the purpose of his mission: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No “Benedictine option” here.

Despite the objections of those who condemn Zacchaeus as a sinner (and he probably was, as his own confession implies), Jesus chooses to reach out to him and stay with him.

More than once in the Gospels, Jesus is criticized for his association with sinners and outcasts. The Scripture readings this Sunday remind us that God loves the world he has created and wants not to shun or destroy it, but to save it. We are to do likewise.

Topics:

  • scripture
  • pope francis

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