Today’s readings: Numbers 11, 25-29; James 5, 1-6; Mark 9, 38-43.45.47-48.
Henri de Lubac was one of the preeminent Catholic theologians of the 20th century. Spiritual discernment and spiritual resistance were outstanding characteristics of his theology and commitment in times that were of great turmoil for his country and the world. Back in 1940 when Germany invaded the north of France, de Lubac was involved in the effort to guide the Church’s response to anti-Semitic racism.
In his efforts as part of a spiritual resistance network to resist the Nazi ideology, de Lubac did not think of resistance as primarily a political activity but he saw it as coextensive with the vocation of the Christian Church. He speaks of this with great depth in his classic Catholicism, published in 1938, where, in the context of a rampant atheistic humanism, he argues how God heals the wounds of a divided humanity.
In our times we continuously face issues that call for action and spiritual resistance. We cannot, as Christians, jump on any bandwagon or give in to a sterile pessimism or take things lightly while we continue with our inner-Church duties as if nothing out there is bothering us. In today’s gospel text, St Mark is addressing a community that was gradually losing compass in terms of discipleship. It is the same story we find in the letter of St James, who laments about a community still practising yet completely deaf and blind to those crying for justice.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks a violent language in terms of cutting off the hand and the foot and tearing out the eye. We are used to interpret this in terms of individual morality. But the text makes sense if read metaphorically in terms of the community being seen as a ‘body’ which is ailing and malfunctioning where solidarity is concerned.
Our churches are ailing and malfunctioning, with structures we always upheld as divine and which actually are in deep crisis and need to undergo urgent surgery. There is so much that is dated in our churches, worn out by time and hindering the Church from being in the world the visible sign of the transcendent. We need a rebranding of all that we stand for.
From the book of Numbers today we read how the Lord spoke to Moses and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the 70 elders. Further down, two others who were not in the tent with the 70 were also prophesying, and Joshua asked Moses to stop them. Moses answered: “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets”.
In like manner, in the gospel, John asks Jesus to stop someone “who was not one of us and was casting out devils”. Jesus, like Moses, did not stop him because “Anyone who is not against us is for us”. Both Joshua in Numbers and John in Mark seem to entertain ‘holier than thou’ delusions. But the Church is called to work alongside all those, of whatever race or religion, who practise compassion and who work for the redemption of the world.
There is so much authenticity, honesty, compassion and work for justice outside the confines of our churches which we need simply to acknowledge and which should make us question what is it that distinguishes us when we claim to be believers. There is so much the Church can learn from the outside world.
Unfortunately the image we still project out there is of a Church busy with celebrating liturgies in honour of God and the saints but completely alienated from witnessing to the truth and setting its priorities in order. It is the very soul of the Church that is at stake, making it visibly a sign, not of the beyond, but of what in St James’ words is corroding under our very eyes.
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