The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Isaiah 8:23-9:3: Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23
Why is so much of the human experience marked by discord and division?
Consider the feuds and ruptures within our families to the family of nations that are fueled by keeping alive the histories, the convenient lies and perceptions often by generations of people as they retell stories; from the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s to the partition of the subcontinent into Pakistan and India. The partisanship and anger of the 2016 presidential campaign season in the United States. White families who reinforce racial segregation by the school choice for their children. Hate. The schisms within religions: Shia and Sunni; Orthodox, Reform, Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican within Christianity; Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Judaism. The murder of Abel by his brother Cain and the root of every murder. The rise of extreme nationalism. War. Gang violence. Brexit. The building of walls, physical and metaphorical, between people grounded in dogmatism, racism, fear, the stranger, the perceived enemy. The rich, the middle class and the poor, and the half-truths we tell ourselves about each other. The hostilities of marital separation and divorce. Simon Peter and Paul arguing over the issues of kosher food, circumcision and what people it is permissible to eat with. The in-groups, which means there are out-groups, at all levels of education, institutions, corporations, neighborhoods and parishes.
What is at the heart of this human movement toward division?
I find myself returning over and over again to the story of the garden. “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except” one. But the tree “was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom.” So the humans took some of the fruit and ate it which resulted in division and isolation [Confer Genesis 2:15ff and 3:1ff]. Division between the man and the woman who blame each other. Separation between humans and animals with the accusing finger pointed toward the serpent. The chasm created by disobedience between God and humanity. The resulting punishment that sets up a rivalry, hostility and resentment between the serpent, the woman and their respective offspring resulting in violence while the man will struggle with the earth to produce food.
And the common thread that weaves through all these historical events, biblical stories, and personal situations? The common thread is the desire for independence, to go off on our own and insist our way is the only way.
Division results in an awfully isolated world as we live within our self-made walled ghettos of pride, arrogance and stubbornness.
Have you ever considered the amount of energy needed and used to hate someone? …to hold on to the past or an intellectual position so tightly that your hand and heart hurt and atrophy? The sad part is that after a period of time, decades, even centuries, the fist we held out against someone seems impossible to open. It becomes the norm. We get comfortable with the norm and no longer even recognize that we are divided.
The divisions in the Body of Christ reflect this kind of situation. We Catholics pray with, work alongside advocating on issues of justice and together address the basic needs of people with Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists, Orthodox and Anglicans. But we have lost the initial enthusiasm for working toward the organic unity Jesus prayed for the night before he died. It has become the norm. “It’s all the same God anyway” as I often hear. Maybe but we are still divided.
Closer to home, we’ve gotten used to and even ingenious in avoiding a relative, a former friend, a parishioner or co-worker so as not to have to deal with the separation between us. It has become the norm.
The Second Vatican Council teaches that division “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block for the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the gospel to every creature.” [Decree on Ecumenism, #1]
Division in the Church and in our dioceses and parishes is not confined to first-century Corinth. Division is so contrary to Christian life that as soon as Paul opens his first letter to these young Christians he quickly goes right to the heart of the issue in the Corinthian Church: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…that there be no divisions among you. For it has been reported to me…that there are rivalries among you.” We are not sure of the specific nature of the rivalries within the Corinthian church around which people gathered behind the names and positions of Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Christ but I expect they are the same petty issues, judgments, gossip and jealousies that mar relationships in our present day parishes.
This is experienced in parishioners never being personally asked or thanked for some involvement in parish life. Conversely, it is also parishioners who never step up to the plate and volunteer when a general request is made for help because of the perception that the same in-group always run things. And regretfully some of these people when they have stepped up to the plate have been turned away by the in-group who are protecting their castle of power and position(?). The perceived slight because the pastor doesn’t know my name but seemingly knows everybody else’s. How many people silently leave a parish because the pastor didn’t give a permission, doesn’t support their “cause”, or isn’t of their theological ilk? How many parishioners who though regularly present at Mass live on the edges of parish worship and life; never participating in any way, just looking in from the outside? How many people leave a parish because they were treated badly? Decisions are made to remain on the sidelines or leave a parish without any reality check or attempt at reconciliation through a meaningful encounter with the people involved. All these choices, jealousies, hurts and perceptions speak volumes about separateness and division. Is was found in the Corinthian Church; it is found in our parish.
Remember last week’s description of the Christian people of Corinth: conceited, stubborn, over-sensitive, argumentative, infantile and pushy? What is missing from this not very positive description of a Christian community? What is missing is Jesus Christ. Every aspect of our personal and community life must be subjected to the will of Christ, otherwise we commit the sin of independence. That phrase may be difficult for our culture to swallow; the sin of independence, the sin of going it alone? Either way it is up and against the unity of the Body of Christ which “openly contradicts the will of Christ, provides a stumbling block for the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the gospel to every creature.”
How have you experienced division within the church? …within our parish?
How can you contribute to the healing of divisions within the church? …within our parish?
I suppose it comes down to, who was crucified for you?