My friends, each Sunday, our reflection of the Scriptures should challenge us, and this week is no exception. Along with the challenge to generally be the best people we can be, following in Jesus’ footsteps—often come questions about exactly what the Scriptures are saying and sometimes it seems as though the challenges work against each other.
Our readings today address the whole issue of who is equipped to minister to the People of God, and of course, that draws us right into the ever present questions of whether gender, race, or sexual expression make any difference, or make one “unfit” for service. Common sense tells us that it should make no difference, but then we must deal with the law, the rules and regulations which often say something different.
We see somewhat the same dilemma today in our first reading and again in our gospel selection from Mark. Joshua is questioning why Eldad and Medad are prophesying—shouldn’t that be Moses’ place since he is in the position of leadership? After I was ordained; I received the same kind of questioning from the previous and the current bishop when I was a regular staff chaplain at Winona Health. But the questions were directed to the CEO about what I was doing at the hospital. I thought, better for them to perhaps do their own work of pastoring their flock as we all know there is enough work to go around. As Moses responded so well; “If only all of God’s people were prophets!”
We, my friends, are all called to be prophets—to announce God’s deep and all-abiding love for each of us. How wonderful it would be if we could each be so clear in the announcement of this message; that people would have no doubt about it—that we are all, in fact, loved.
I met too many people in my career as a chaplain who didn’t know that they are loved—so I think we could use a few more prophets, giving out exactly this one message; or perhaps hear that message coming more clearly from those who claim this role, instead of specifics on who, and for what we should vote and who indeed, is worthy of the rights and privileges of marriage. Now that it is the law of the land—granting the rights and privileges of marriage to any couple regardless of gender, it is time that our Church hierarchy gets on board. Hopefully, Francis, the beloved pope, who has said, “Who is he to judge?”—will do this!
Looking to the First Testament people for instruction on who could be a prophet, we see a two-fold path. First, the call came from God and second, the call was always for the people—for the community—it was affirmed by the community and it was never given for the individual, nor for their power or glory—to help them move, “up the ladder.” We are grateful to Francis for addressing this issue with the Curia and with bishops around the world, and hopefully putting a stop to it.
As a chaplain resident in training, back in 1993-94, a question would arise for me from time to time—how can I be sure that my call is truly from God? The answer, consistently given, was, you will know in the peace of your heart, and in your desire to do the work, to serve; and you will be confirmed by the people—in their acceptance of your ministry. Things seemed to work well when both criteria were present for me and it seems that was true for the First Testament people too.
Our hearts are powerful instruments in showing us the way—we should listen more often to the message this vital organ is prompting within us and the confirmation of our “heart” work comes from the people who affirm and confirm, our work.
In the first reading, there seems to be trouble when the people haven’t had anything to say about who is called into service—the call needs to come from God, but also from the people! The experience of the women across this country who have been called to ordination, myself included, has always been to argue that we can’t follow an unjust law that says we aren’t fit for ordination—God is calling us and that call always trumps the Church’s law. Anthony de Mello, a spiritual guide who died in 1987, said, “Obedience keeps the rules. Love knows when to break them.”
The notion of the people calling forth someone to lead their parish is one never considered in our present day Church. I can’t ever remember being asked my opinion, or even given the chance to voice it, in regard to any priest or bishop who became the new one “in command.” This is all done, as you know, in far-away Rome, especially in regard to bishops, with no input from the people who will hopefully be served. In the past, it was done without knowledge of a proper fit of “leader” to people.
Hopefully, now more consideration is given to how someone will gel with the people as opposed to who can best control them. It is time that Church fathers grow up and begin to treat their congregants as grownups too!
Jesus deals with a bit of the same issue. Someone is speaking in their name—in Jesus’ name. Jesus simply responds—“if they aren’t against us, they must be for us!” He was one to always look at the bigger picture—what are the fruits, he asks. And what his words speak further to, is being open to the Spirit alive in our midst, perhaps showing us a new way to be with and for God, with and for each other.
We speak often here about different faith belief systems and the possibility of each having a piece of the truth—that we can learn from different understandings, rather than put down other beliefs that don’t reflect our own. Even here within our parish, we welcome those from different faith groups to be part of this new parish, All Are One.
Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong, has spoken well to the point of how important it is that we allow God to be God and learn from our God’s all-inclusive love. We need to leave behind the angry God of human making created simply to control people by holding salvation over their heads and embrace the God that is for us—is with us!
This is another area where we can credit Francis in his instruction to bishops and priests—that they must be about mercy, about love and show it on their faces, in their pastoral approach. His reaching out to the poor, the little children, with love, is much of his appeal. Now if he can just take his blinders off where women are concerned, a bridge that needs to be crossed would be.
And it really behooves him to make this next leap because of his desire to care for the poor of this world. He was challenged as only a prophet can through the voice of Benedictine, Sister Joan Chittister in an open letter to him this past week. She praised him for his desire to reach out to the poorest in our world, but reminded him that women are the poorest of the poor. She delineates that women have to fight in this world for education, for just wages to care for themselves and their children, their voices, their God-given equality, which should open all of the above for them in this world and our Church. She said in conclusion that until he models our brother Jesus in all the ways that he was open to women and accepting of them, “nothing can really change for their hungry children and their inhuman living conditions!”
Pope Francis has been called forth by the Spirit of God to set a new tone for our Church and he is a breath of fresh air. He is loved and respected worldwide for the ways that he reaches out and is willing to touch people and in more than physical ways. His approach of using mercy in trying to understand the ideas that veer from Church law is a good one following in Jesus’ footsteps. But he simply must apply this approach across the board and fully include women—until he does, his message is a good start, but this lack is too big to ignore. May the God who loves each of us equally shine light upon this good man that he might become even more the prophet that our Church and world so sorely needs.