22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
How do we judge? How do we choose? How do we respond?
White supremacy, False pride, Black pride, Gay pride; the noblest of virtues or deadly sin; pride has a social history!
Pride is seen as raising us above timidity to achieve higher goals, but it is also seen as a stumbling block to humility, alternatively, it can be seen as the ladder to prejudice and hate, and then again it has the power to raise us above historical, cultural and social shaming. These are all complicated moral and ethical, self-referential judgements, comparing myself, my social self, to others. Recent historical events have shown how pride is a highly emotional engagement with the world that often leads to intolerance and chaos.
These complicated moral and ethical, self-referential judgments are often contradictory, depending on particular circumstances. Judgements of hate speech and freedom of expression are often heavily dependent on the status of the person involved.
A world-class athlete who is gay can be lauded and celebrated within the same society that has strong homophobic tendencies; winning makes a difference. We wince at the hate speech and intolerance from any underprivileged group or person but quietly look the other way. The same hate speech and intolerance from the privileged and wealthy bring instant condemnation and retaliation. Class and background make a difference.
Pride, honour, shame, embarrassment, guilt, liability, and justice are all concepts that involve the self and the social self within the context of a particular historical and cultural setting. In these concepts, we find the embers of the powers of wrath. Resolving conflict in these areas is often a frustrating and exhausting exercise. When we come to recognise this, we come to acknowledge that progress of our global society with all its many challenges, will only be made from the stance of spiritual humility and mutual respect.
The book of Ecclesiastes warns that there is no cure for the proud persons’ melody; evil has taken root in them. In the second reading, St Paul admonishes the Hebrew community that in this new Kingdom of God, within the community of the Church, we have all become equal before God who is the only Supreme Judge with Jesus as the Mediator.
One of the problems that beset the early Christian communities were the disputes at the Eucharistic meal over the rich looking after themselves and disputes over precedence in a highly segregated society. These difficulties were responsible for the way the ritual community meal developed into the ritual formal meal that we know as ‘The Eucharist’. ‘The Thanksgiving’ was a name that emerged in the second century for this specific religious ritual.
Luke was fully aware of these difficulties as in Acts he presents an idealised ‘original period’ that he wants communities to take as their model for how they should behave at this meal. Hearing this gospel today at our Sunday Eucharist is a direct invitation to us to evaluate how our community practices at our sacred meal measure up to Jesus’s teaching.
The characteristics call for humility; everyone must act with humility. A practical consequence of this is that everyone must see themselves as the servants of the community rather than those whom the community might feel honoured to serve. There must be no pandering or favouritism for the rich and powerful. Around the Lord’s Table, there is a state of equality for all are equally there by God’s invitation, grace, and mercy.
There must be a welcome in the community for the needy and all those signified by the phrase ‘the poor, crippled, lame, and blind’. This means that the community must be making special efforts to see that no individual or group are excluded from the Lord’s meal or made feel that they are not ‘our sort’. A tone of genuine welcome and a spirit of service to one another should be palpable qualities of the assembly. Body language, eye contact, and tone of voice must be one that we use with those whom we hold dear.
The community must be aware of the dangers of a small clique running the parish so that the community’s assembly is only an excuse for their needs for self-importance to be fulfilled. Asking these questions can be difficult, but the more the questions are feared, the more they are needed and the more there is a need for the community to hear this gospel.
The sin warned against at the very beginning of the Bible is ‘to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. The moment I sit on the throne of judgment, where I know with certitude who the good guys and the bad guys are, then I’m capable of great evil, while not thinking of it as evil! The Cloud of Unknowing says that first, we have to enter into ‘the cloud of forgetting.’ Forget all our certitudes, all our labels, all our explanations, whereby we’ve put this person in this box, this group is going to heaven, this race as superior to that race. This is a waste of time. It’s usually our ego projecting itself, announcing itself, and protecting itself. It has little to do with objective reality or real love of the truth.
As we seek the path of the truth, we are unsure and often stumble. And then there is death, and nothing will ever be the same again. A grandparent dies, and suddenly nothing will ever be the same again. A parent dies, our hearts are shattered and all our proud plans and posturing now means nothing. A sibling dies, the icy grip of death’s tentacles touch our hearts, and nothing will ever be the same again. A spouse, a life partner dies and part of us also dies, and nothing will ever be the same again. Yes, death breaks our hearts, but it is only through the cracks of a broken heart that our love becomes less and less selfish. It is only through these cracks of a broken heart that we become humbler people, a compassionate community.
The community of the church without a broken heart, without humility, without compassion, has nothing to say to our world of today.