Thursday: Eighteenth Week of the Year: August 4, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 51:12-19; Matthew 16:13-23
The Responsorial Psalm asks: “A pure heart create for me, O God” (Psalm 51).
Jeremiah 31: 31-34 brings our readings from Jeremiah to an ecstatic climax. It describes our relationship with God in the “new covenant” sealed in Christ’s blood and confirmed by the gift of his Spirit: “Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts!”
In the Church, the new covenanted community established by Christ:
There will be no further need for neighbor to try to teach neighbor, or… say, “Learn to know the Lord.” No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest.
The Holy Spirit creates a new heart in every believer at Baptism. Every member of the Church is an anointed, consecrated, divinely appointed priest, prophet and king, or steward of the Christ’s kingship. There are no “non-priests” in the Church, no one who does not have the gift and call to bear prophetic witness, no one whom Jesus has not made his “steward,” responsible for fostering the reign of God on earth. Baptism commits and empowers us all to fulfill the triple function of Jesus Priest, Prophet and King (Matthew 24:45).
This does not mean there is no need for us to minister to each other. We must, but as equals to equals. We teach one another, but we don’t claim the status of “teacher,” because Jesus said, “you have [only] one teacher [Jesus], and you are all students.” There are different functions and gifts, but “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (Matthew 23:8; 1Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12: 4-8). Bishops and ordained priests have particular functions of teaching and stewardship (Titus 1:7) and there are different degrees of authority in the Church. But to attach degrees of dignity to differences in authority or function is to violate the teaching of Jesus. In the New Covenant those who teach are just fellow students reciting what they have learned, and those who learn are all teachers in formation (Matthew 23: 1-12; Luke 9: 46-48; 22: 24-27).
In Matthew 16: 13-23 Jesus gives Peter the authority to keep the Church united and faithful to his teaching. But Peter’s first act as “pope” is to oppose God’s way of saving the world! “God forbid it, Lord! This must not happen to you!”
Popes sin and err, as do bishops, priests and laity. Jesus “guarantees” some ministries (e.g. infallible definitions, the sacraments), but not the holiness or wisdom of any minister. To downplay the role of laity by thinking there is something “higher” about the hierarchy or clergy is the sin of clericalism.
Peter could not reconcile his image of the Messiah with the way Jesus said he was going to fulfill his mission: through humiliation, defeat and death. We may find it hard to reject the false image of the hierarchy as “higher” and “more sacred” than the rest of the body of Christ that has been projected by centuries of pomp and prestige. But if we don’t, Jesus says to us, “You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things…”
If we use our ministry to enhance our self-image, we betray Jesus Christ. So all of us need to pray, “A pure heart create for me, O God.”
Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Live out your baptismal consecration to ministry.