Sunday, December 27, 2015

Feast of the Holy Family: two reflections

The Family of Jesus

1.     What exactly happened in that family?
2.     The family of Jesus wanted to bring him back home because he might have lost his head. We see this in Mk3/20-21 and 31-35.
3.     In this passage the family “set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’’ (Mk3/21). They wanted to SEIZE him; arrest him; put their hands on him; lay hold of him. The same word, “seize”, will be used later in the Mark account (see Mk14/1) to refer to the action of the Roman and Jewish authorities when they will arrest Jesus. So at this point the family of Jesus plays the same role as the social authorities.
4.     Then Jesus responds by taking a distance from his own family and pointing to AN OTHER FAMILY. To belong to that other family, he says, is to do the will of God. A new fraternal “family” life starts to revolve around Jesus based on listening to him and doing God’s will.
5.     Later in the account of Mark we read again something about the family of Jesus. See Mk6/1-6. Jesus notes that a prophet is with honor OUTSIDE and NOT INSIDE the family.  Honor is elsewhere EXCEPT in the native place and family.  “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house” (6/4). Again here is a picture of what may have been going on between Jesus and his family. Bible experts will say that this must have a historical base too; it is not just theological.
6.     In the Acts of the Apostles and in some letters of Paul we get a glimpse of the way the family started to behave after the death-resurrection. If the gospel accounts speak of pressuring Jesus to silence him, now we see family members being in the midst of the Christian communities. We can think of James who became head of the Jerusalem community (Act12/17; 21/18 and Gal2/9). There must have been a “CONVERSION” in the family of Jesus.

Lost in the Temple

1.     Luke does not offer historical the details of the infancy of Jesus. He offers a “theological” view of the traits of the adult Jesus through his infancy narrative. Luke offers a scene that announces the mission of the adult man, Jesus. He makes a “catechism” for his readers.
2.     In the caravan the men and women move together. Jesus is 12 years of age, as Luke writes, and this is an age not of little kids nor of adults. Jesus can thus join the women or the men in the caravan. There is no reason for Mary and Joseph to worry about his whereabouts. At the moment when each family gathers, Joseph and Mary discover that Jesus is missing. The two leave the caravan to turn back towards Jerusalem.
3.     After three days of searching Mary then asks a question. The question is not about Jesus! It is about the couple: “Son, why have you done this to US? YOUR FATHER AND I have been looking for you with great anxiety (Lk2/48)”. Bible experts have ways of interpreting this statement. One element is worth mentioning. Mary calls the infant “son” and not “my son” or “my child”. She says “son”. Experts will say that this “captures” the identity of Jesus.
4.     Luke is not doing history here. He aims to “teach” the reader about the identity of the Jesus who will be adult. His identity is not defined by the mother who gave birth to him but by his relationship with God. That identity has been given by the Angel Gabriel, by the angel in Christmas Eve, by Simeon and Anna at the Temple.
5.     And so Jesus, in the question of Mary, is not the child of the couple. He is not “their” Jesus. The story goes to say that Jesus returns to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph. Yes, Jesus becomes “obedient to them” (2/51) and some commentaries say that this is his way of obeying the Father in heaven by accepting the conditions of the incarnation which includes cultural life. Yet, now this Jesus is quite “different” in the eyes of Mary and Joseph. The earlier cold reply, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? (2/49)” has marked a break, a crack. Later in Luke’s account this will be clear. The members of his family…”are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (8/21).
6.     Experts say that Jerusalem, for Luke, is the city of beginnings. Annunciation to Zechariah was done there Luc, Jerusalem is the fulfillment of the cross, the first apparitions of the Risen one is in Jerusalem, the Pentecost that starts the Church is in Jerusalem. So to place the 12 year old boy in the Jerusalem Temple has its theology too. His first words about his Father are said here.
7.     On the road from Jerusalem Jesus explains to two disciples on their way to Emmaus the meaning of the scriptures and shows how scriptures relate to his mission. The adult Jesus has a way of understanding the scirptures that disturbs others. He provokes surprise and controversy. This has been announced by Simeon when the child Jesus was brought to the Temple: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted” (2/34).
8.     Mary and Joseph may have enormous difficulty comprehending the response of the 12 year old boy. Luke presents them as faithful followers of the Jewish tradition and he also portrays them as confused. Just like the disciples, the couple “incarnate” the struggles of an adventurous faith.
9.     Now Luke writes about three days of seeking for the child. That evokes, for his readers, the three days of the empty tomb and then the apparitions. Jesus asks, as a child, “Why were you looking for me?” The same question will be raised in the empty tomb, a question of the two men in dazzling clothes: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” (24/5). Luke has his style of writing.
10.           On the road to Emmaus the two disciples lost “their” Jesus. Their expectations about Jesus did not allow them to recognize Jesus as they walked along. Mary and Joseph could not understand the response of Jesus.
11.           The disciples on the road to Emmaus then had their hearts burning. Mary, herself, keeps the events in her heart. It is in the heart that understanding happens. The disciples, after understanding, had to renounce their expectations of Jesus. Mary must have passed through the same process.
12.           In Luke’s “theology” what we know in faith is not acquired. For Luke the theme of moving…walking…taking a path…is important. Like Mary and Joseph and like the disciples to Emmaus we begin with expectations about God and, as my teachers in college like to say, with “pre-judgements”. But suddenly God is not present as we expect. He shows up differently. Unexpectedly. Disturbingly. He takes us on a different route. The story of the lost Jesus in the Temple may tell us that we are led to unexpected routes to pursue our search for God.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Justice of the Kingdom and Mission-Dialogue

The Justice of the Kingdom

1.   The “Sermon on the Mount” in the Matthew account (Mt5-7) shows the condition for entering the Kingdom. A conversion is called for and this has been signaled prior to the Sermon: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (4/17). This conversion expresses itself in justice (or “righteousness”). For Jesus this justice is not just any kind of justice; it is justice of the Kingdom.
2.   To understand this justice we try to see what it is not. There is another form of justice and it can be called justice nonetheless. But it still is not the justice of the Kingdom. What is that other form of justice? Jesus tells his listeners in these words, “…unless your justice surpasses that of scribes and Pharisees” (5/20). The justice of the Kingdom surpasses that other form of justice. What is the justice of scribes and Pharisees?
3.   The scribes are the learned in Scriptures. They can give expert commentaries. The Pharisees are the “radical” believers. They want to respect strictly the Law; this Law being so deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition. Scribes and Pharisees have thus attained a certain perfection in the observance of Jewish tradition. They have come to the point of seeing themselves able to evaluate others and say how others should be like them. Hence they impose rules and observances that the very weak cannot, however, follow too well. In fact the observance of the practices does not really open hearts to the possibility of charity. Submission to the observance of rules has become an external gesture forgetting the basic justice in front of God. It has been so external that it has become the mark of separating people from each other. There are those who can follow well the external practices and they are “better” than those who cannot. The social-cultural climate at the time of Jesus was marked by this distinction between the “better” ones and the “lesser” ones.
4.   The justice of the scribes and Pharisees would then be this type of justice; a justice that separates. It is selective justice well applied exclusive to the “better” members of society at the cost of marginalizing others, the “lesser” ones.
5.   To surpass this justice is to accept placing ourselves in the path of happiness; the path of the Beatitudes. We place ourselves in the hands of the Lord God and accept avoiding the separatist justice. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “neighbor”. We avoid getting stuck in conditions that select who shall be “my brother” or “my sister”. The justice of the Kingdom stretches the justice of scribes and Pharisees beyond its exclusive applicability. The other who is not of “my resemblance” is still a neighbor. The other who does not “resemble” me is still my brother, my sister.
6.   The human heart is made to love. The human heart is called to love like the Father. The Father is not selective. He does not choose who to respect and who to accord dignity. Every single person is, for the eyes of God, a beloved. This is so different from the perspective of scribes and Pharisees. Justice thus needs love for it to be justice of the Kingdom. Justice needs to recognize the dignity of each and every single human person, be that person my resemblance or not. The justice of the Kingdom is opposed to “ghetto” justice. The justice of the Kingdom is defined by the demand of perfection that goes beyond the strict observance of the “letter” of the law. “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (5/48).
7.   A conversion is called for. “Repent”, says Jesus. What does this word mean?
8.   We tend to oppose in clear terms bad from good. And then we include opposing “bad people” from “good people”. This might even make us see persons in the light “eternity”…shall they go to “heaven” or to “hell”? Jesus has a different way of putting things. He is more nuanced. The scribes and Pharisees are very clear with their distinctions. They have their erudition and ritual purification to say who’s who in the ranks of the saved. When John the Baptist was ministering he was accused of doing sacrilege; he was accused of doing an illegitimate practice of baptism. Now Jesus notes that publicans and prostitutes he encounters, sinners in the eyes of the ritually pure, feel themselves forgiven by God. Jesus reproaches the ritually pure persons for not having recognized in the practice of John the Baptist the work of the living God.
9.   Whenever we recognize and admit our ignorance we learn more; we deepen ourselves. The good teachers and formators are those who consider themselves as still on the path of learning. A humble sinner has chances of becoming available to the mercy of God. We are, indeed, sinners. We need the mercy of God to have access to his Kingdom. What is important is to recognize where we are; who we are truly. This is “to repent”. In the letter to the Philippians Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves” (Ph2/3). Do not bloat your virtues. Rather, have the humility to recognize the virtues of others. See their dignity. In doing this we pursue unity, fraternity, mutual respect, solidarity. In doing this we reject division and paralysis of relationships. We reject the option to deny God’s plan. Why should we create division among ourselves when God’s plan is that we be one?
10.        By following the humility of Christ we become servants to each other and servants to the Kingdom. We perceive in others, including those we think are “bad” and “sinners”, as having qualities that can inspire us and help us improve.  To enter the Kingdom we certainly need to discover goodwill of God and the dignity and goodwill of others, no matter who they are. This is “to repent”.
11.        To repent is to step out of being too full of ourselves and assuming reverence towards others. This is “conversion” too. We turn ourselves away from pretending to have completed ourselves fully. We repent, we go down, we humble ourselves and we open doors to the dignity of others. We practice the justice of the Kingdom.

Applied to Mission and Inter-religious dialogue

12.        There is the tendency to think that mission and dialogue impose on others; they harm cultures. The gospel is perceived as interfering in the cultures of peoples. It is best to “do nothing”. Christians should “do nothing”. If ever they enter into dialogue they can compromise their faith. For the sake of dialogue Christians can drop the Gospel and drop Christ.
13.        This is partly due to the notion of “conversion” as pulling people out of the tranquility of their cultures and religions and leading them to a very alienating life form within the Church. Because of this type of “conversion” it is wiser to leave people alone; let them stay in their own cultural and religious traditions. If ever their traditions need improvement and further integration, the Gospel is not necessary. Leave those people alone and let their resources take care of their own wounds. They do not need Christ and they do not need the message of Christ.
14.        This type of thinking is attractive for those who have axes to grind in history. History, they say, proves the many blunders of Christianity and the Church.
15.        But then a closer look at Biblical evidence will reveal that neither Christ nor his message wanted harm against cultures. The Good News of Jesus is for liberation.
16.        What really gives harm to people and their traditions is the indifference and hatred and separatism that people make towards each other. The human heart is made for love and justice. When justice turns selective and exclusive, love comes in to remind people of the dignity of the rejected. When love is abused and turns promiscuous and blind, justice comes in to remind people of principles of respect and equality. This is what Jesus presents in his Sermon. This is what Jesus presents as justice of the Kingdom. It is a justice that is opposed to what separates people and to what makes social life unbearable. This is the message—a liberating message.
17.        Conversion is to this justice. Conversion is not about “club membership”. It is not about pulling people out of their cultural roots and forcing them into something alienating. Conversion is precisely this repenting against egoism, self-centeredness, ghetto centered practices.
18.        Now there are people who have seen the glory of Christ and have seen the enormous beauty of his message. These people have been assembled to share that experience. These people have formed a community called the Church. The Church is a community of persons touched by Christ. The Church is a community of persons doing their best to observe this justice of the Kingdom. The Church is so convinced of the validity of this justice; she wants to share and promote this to other cultures. What’s wrong with that?

19.        To opt for “doing nothing” is marked by ghetto thinking; it is to tell Christians to refuse sharing the message of Christ, to refuse sharing the justice of the Kingdom. It is to tell Christians to lock themselves up and avoid provoking other people. It is to tell Christians to throw Jesus and his message out of the window every time dialogue occurs; and they are to do this for the sake of dialogue. This is ghetto thinking.