Friday, June 3, 2016

Protocol Creates Deadly Division

Protocol Creates Deadly Division
Saturday: Ninth week of the Year: June 4, 2016
Mark 12:38-44. Year II: 2Timothy 4:1-8; Psalm 71:8-22.

This is the last weekday reading from Mark in Ordinary Time. We have reached the end of Christ’s public preaching. Jesus will speak to his disciples about the “last days” (chapter 13), and then enter into the final stage of what he had to accomplish during his human lifetime, bringing all to its climax in his passion, death and resurrection.

It will not be the end of his mission. He will continue it living in his risen body on earth, the Church. As the liturgy sums it up in praise to the Father:

In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death;
but by rising from the dead he destroyed death and restored life.
And that we might live no longer for ourselves but for him,
he sent the Holy Spirit from you, Father
as his first gift to those who believe,
to complete his work on earth
and bring us the fullness of grace
: (Fourth Eucharistic Prayer).

What was the final theme of Jesus’ preaching? It is no great surprise. He warned his disciples over and over again to shun power and prestige (9:35; 10:31; 10:44). But they never got the message. So he makes it his final plea to them: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!”

Why is Jesus so concerned about this? Isn’t it commonplace to give respectful titles to the modern “scribes,” the clergy and hierarchy who are official teachers in the Church, and to seat them up front in church and at banquets? Haven’t we taken this for granted for centuries? At least ever since church officials were given political status in countries where Church and state exercised overlapping roles. Today we take for granted that Church authority should be accompanied by special protocols of deference. Should we be concerned about this?

Few modern churchmen can be accused of “devouring widows’ houses.” But when any group of officials, secular or ecclesiastic, accept an isolating protocol that separates them from the common folk, then only a few people will speak to them frankly, especially to criticize. The result of this is deadly. At least Jesus thought it was for his Church.

Whom does Jesus praise as contributing most to the Church? “A poor widow who put in two small copper coins, worth about a penny.” That is what the Church leaves us to think about at the end of the readings from Mark.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Don’t take protocol for granted, at least in the Church. React to it.

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