25th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached September 23, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
It is not often that we get a nearly identical Gospel reading on successive Sundays, but last week we heard Jesus announce his coming suffering, death, and resurrection and today we have almost the exact same words. This is Jesus’ second of three predictions of his Passion.
Jesus announces his coming Passion after the Twelve have recognized him as the Christ or Messiah at which point his attention turns towards the journey to Jerusalem. The Twelve are excited, thinking that they are going to Jerusalem where Jesus will be made King and they will be the chief ministers of his Kingdom.
Jesus, on the other hand, is teaching them about the true nature of his Kingdom. Jesus Christ is the Son of God made man who gave his life on the Cross in order to lead us to eternal life in the land of the Resurrection beyond the grave. His Kingdom does not belong to this world but is visibly present and manifest in this world through the Church, governed by Jesus’ Apostles and their successors, the Bishops.
Jesus enters into his Kingdom not by sitting on an earthly throne in the city of Jerusalem, but by ascending to a heavenly throne by means of his death and resurrection. The Apostles, however, are still arguing about positions of power here on earth.
Jesus has indeed chosen the Twelve to rule his Kingdom (cf. Mt 19:28), but they are not getting it. So Jesus must also teach them about the right understanding and use of power and authority in his Kingdom.
Last Sunday I spoke about the problem of abuse of power in reference to Jesus’ words about the rulers of the nations who lord it over their subjects. (cf. Mk 10:42) By way of contrast the ministers of Jesus’ Kingdom are to set the example for the others by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mk 10:45) Power and authority are given for the sake of service. So today we hear Jesus saying, He who wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.
Today’s Gospel, however, gives us a special light into the right use of power when Jesus takes the child, sets him in the middle and says, Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not be but the One who sent me.
The first form of authority in the human world is the authority that a father has over his children; all other authority is in some way based on or analogous to paternal
authority. Jesus, then, is teaching the Apostles that they need to learn to be good fathers.
Jesus first of all embraces the child, which tells us that the right exercise of authority must be rooted in love, love that then expresses itself in service. The words of Jesus speak about that love as ‘receiving the child’.
To receive the child means to receive the child as a gift, not a gift to be used and disposed of as one’s own, but as a trust, as a responsibility. The child must be cared for; the child needs nourishment, protection, instruction, and guidance. The child cannot provide for himself but needs the strength and knowledge of his parents.
Nevertheless, the child is not meant to remain a child, but is meant to grow to maturity. The nourishment, protection, instruction, and guidance that a father gives are all meant to help the child reach maturity, to become an adult. The boy must grow to become a man; the girl must grow to become a woman.
We could say that a child truly reaches maturity and becomes an adult when he freely embraces the good teaching of his parents and makes it his own.
Returning to the question of the abuse of power we readily grasp the abuse of power that takes place when a man in power exploits others for his own advantage. We are not always so quick to recognize the abuse of power when a man fails to exercise his authority, especially when a man fails to teach. Indeed, I would suggest that the failure to teach might be one of the most pervasive and radical failures of authority in our own time. Relativism is a cop-out, a failure of authority, a refusal to teach.
Let me use an example. From time to time, I have come across parents, Catholics, who choose not to raise their children as Catholics. Instead, they propose to let their children make up their own mind about religion as they grow older. Their failure to teach teaches a lesson: they convey to their children either that religion is not important, or that one religion is as good as another, or that they themselves are ignorant of the truth of the matter, or that perhaps there is no truth.
They will not teach their children about the Catholic faith, at least not as something true, but they will not hesitate to send them to school to learn language, social studies, mathematics, and science. They do not wait to let their children grow older so that they can make up their own minds about whether or not these subjects are worthwhile.
Elsewhere Jesus says, Let the children come to me and do not prevent them. (Mk 10:14)
Yet perhaps I should go easy on these parents because their failure is just one small symptom of a much greater failure. Almost fifty years ago Blessed Pope Paul VI observed that Catholics (bishops, priests, and people) were undergoing a major
crisis of faith, they had lost confidence in the Church, had lost confidence that the Church possessed the formula of true life, and the had begun chasing after every novelty under the sun looking to discover the secret.
Well the Catholic Church does possess the formula of true life; the Catholic Church possesses the teaching of Jesus Christ and the reality of his sacraments, including the very Bread of Life. Nevertheless, many among the leaders of the Catholic Church have failed both the Church and the world not just by bad example, but also by their failure to teach the truth.
If the Church does not teach the truth, if parents do not teach the faith to their children, someone else will come along, some pied-piper. These pied-pipers do not so much teach children as they seduce children with false teaching. In the end, when we fail to teach, we also fail to protect, like the mercenary shepherd who runs at the approach of the wolf. (cf. Jn 10:12-13)
Now, a Catholic priest is called ‘Father’ and rightly so, but that should lead us to reflect. If a Catholic priest is a ‘Father’, then all the faithful, young and old must somehow be children. No, that does not mean that priests should abuse their power and treat the faithful as though they were no more than children; it does mean that in the way of Jesus Christ we are always disciples, that is we are always ‘learners’, we are always on the way, we must always be ready to grow, and so finally we always need instruction and guidance.
That means that a Catholic priest should be so far advanced in both the knowledge and practice of the faith that he is capable of ‘receiving’ all the ‘children’ entrusted to his care, all the ‘little ones’, young and old, and giving them guidance and instruction, leading them to draw nearer to Jesus Christ. He must be able to instruct them both individually and together as a whole parish.
Does any one of us have any idea what a great responsibility that is? Do you realize that the priest must answer to God for you?
Please pray for me.