Linda Spear | May 28, 2017
Originally published at http://rcwpcanada.x10.mx/
"Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." (Mt. 28, 16-20)
It is fitting, then that our Gospel reading is the Great Commission. This is neither the time nor the place to enter into a scholarly discussion of whether this passage, this command of Jesus, was added much later. What we do know is that, in the Christian Scriptures, we have a record of the beliefs of the early Christians. We also have the witness of the Scriptures and of early Christian writings as to how those early believers lived out this commission, even to the shedding of their blood.
The first part of the Great Commission tells us to spread the Good News and to baptize, to bring everyone into union with Jesus.
What is this Good News? Jesus himself told us when he read the passage from Isaiah in the synagogue in his home town, Nazareth. (Luke 4:18)
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
For the Spirit has anointed me
To bring the good news to the afflicted.
and to the broken-hearted.
The Spirit has sent me to proclaim liberty to the
Sight to the blind,
To let the oppressed go free
To proclaim a year of favour from our God. (Isaiah
We know how well the message went over with the home town crowd. They ran to grab him and would have thrown him over a cliff if they had been able.
John the Baptist, already in prison for calling out Herod for marrying his sister-in-law, sends his disciples to check out Jesus’ credentials. In response to their question as to whether he is the One for whom they are waiting, Jesus replies:
"Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, those suffering from virulent skin diseases are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the good news is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause for falling." (Luke 7:20-21)
These are some of the signs that the reign of God is among us. Jesus’ parables often have as their point a message of justice for the poor and a warning to those who have more than enough and who do not share. We have the story of Dives and Lazarus, the tale of the man whose barns are too small for his harvest who plans, unwittingly on his death bed, to build bigger barns. In real life there is the story of the rich young man who went away sad, and the widow’s mite. The Gospels are full of the call to equality, to sharing, and to treating each of God’s little ones with care and compassion. We are told that even giving a cup of cold water to someone in Jesus’ name will have its reward.
Jesus, like a good teacher, a good leader, taught by his example. He told us to love everyone, whether good or evil, like our Father, who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. Jesus was a servant leader, washing the feet of his disciples and telling them to do likewise. He was a humble leader, telling us that if we would be great, we must seek that last place.
Jesus challenged the leaders of Israel who did the opposite, saying: "They (the Pharisees) tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, But will they lift a finger to move them? Not they." (Mt. 23:4) He has similar words for the lawyers: "Alas for you lawyers as well, because you load on people burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not touch with your fingertips." (Luke 11:46)
I wonder if we can see similar situations in our society, in our government, in our church? If the tax department makes a mistake, well, it’s nothing serious. But just let one of us little people make an innocent mistake on a tax return and suddenly we find the whole weight of government being brought to bear against us. Our society tolerates institutional crooks, bankers who steal people’s money, but let one of us make a mistake in dealing with a mortgage or a car loan and we end up paying through the nose.
As for the Church, and I know you’re all waiting for this one, we have only to think of all the teachings on sexual ethics. What about the encouragement to people to have full burials because cremation, with the ashes scattered, doesn’t give the mourners a place to go to visit the deceased. (Never mind the understanding that the deceased are in a different dimension, in eternity, free from the limitations of time and space. And don’t get me started about the Stagliano Cemetery in Genoa where, unless you have lots of money, your remains are dug up and buried in a common pit after ten years.) I wonder if the people who draft these laws have ever had to negotiate with a funeral home over a burial where you may be guilted into paying far more than you can afford for a loved one’s funeral.)
Finally, of course, is the teaching and Canon 1024 which states that women may not receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Some of us may think an ordained ministry is not necessary. But as long as the Church has an ordained ministry, this failure to include women in it sends a message loud and clear: Women are inferior to men. And this message is heard, in some parts of the world, by men in patriarchal societies, because it gives them the license to exploit women. Of course, the teaching against birth control, recently reiterated in the Philippines, a very poor country, effectively keeps women and their societies in poverty. In addition the prohibition against condoms sentences women and innocent babies to die in great numbers from AIDS. (One African bishop is said to have remarked: Babies don’t get AIDS.)
So this Jesus whom we all profess to follow, let himself be handed over to death by a friend while protecting his followers. He forgave those who were crucifying him and welcomed the repentant thief into paradise. He forgave Peter, giving him a chance to repair his threefold denial with a threefold profession of his love. He is the God of second chances, nay, of seven times seventy chances. In the footsteps of Jesus, Paul tells us, “Bless your persecutors, never curse them, bless them.
The second part of the commission deserves greater attention. Jesus wants us to do everything that he has commanded. What has he commanded? What is the passion of God and what is the character of this God who sent his Son into the world to teach us? The character of God is love, overflowing, poured out upon all creation, keeping everything that is in being, loving every nano particle that exists, let alone the little sparrow that falls to the ground. And God’s passion is for justice, that every one of the creatures has what it needs, that no one is in want, that no one goes hungry while others have more than enough.
We are all here because we have heard the call for justice. We know that the oppression of women affects not only women themselves but their children and their societies. It has been amply demonstrated that where women can control their fertility, can control their finances, can be educated, their societies are lifted up with them.
Many authors and speakers have shown the hypocrisy of a society and a Church that speaks out for equality but does not give women an equal place in decision-making and ministry. Why are women still under represented in business circles, in government and in the churches? Even in some churches that ordain women, there are some congregations that do not want a woman priest or minister. We still live, even in Canada in this day and age, in a misogynistic society. Why, in the Catholic Church, are women priests condemned equally with pedophiles? Why are they excommunicated when, to the best of my knowledge, pedophile priests are not? Truly, there is much work to be done.
Now is not the time to lower our arms raised in prayer for our suffering sisters and brothers. Now is not the time to be invisible. We are not to put our light under a bushel basket. The support of various women's movements is necessary to crack the hard shell of patriarchy.
In a paraphrase of an early Canadian feminist: Never give in, never give up. Never explain, never apologize, just get the thing done.
Or, as we say in Québec, Lache pas!
[Linda Spear an ordained priest, member of RCWP Canada, ministers in Sutton, QC.]