Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
In the second reading the theme of unity in the midst of diversity is again offered to us by St. Paul the Apostle. This theme surfaces fairly regularly with St. Paul who tries to challenge his gentile community on the absolute oneness of God, Christ and the Spirit to a pluralistic society. But if we look at the first reading and the introduction of the Gospel of Luke we also find these two writers discussing the theme of interpretation.
Christians have one common Bible with a number of different versions. But if we look at how the Sacred Scriptures have been interpreted to offer a position on any social issue we can see a variety of positions used to promote a political or social agenda. The issue of slavery in the United States points out that fact very well where both the abolitionist and the slaveholding community used the Bible to defend both positions. In the current culture war that is debating economic globalization, climate change and humanitarian intervention we see the same thing happening. Whether people are using the Bible, the Quran or the Torah any faith-based group can come up with any number of positions with regards to these issues using their own Sacred texts to defend these positions.
Both Ezra and Luke are dealing with tensions of interpretation. They both come out of a tradition built on the Spirit of unity but fractured by social violence. For Ezra the Hebrew community has just returned from their exile in Babylon and is trying to again make sense of their post-exilic identity. For Luke’s early Christians that Apostolic community has brought the salvific message of Christ throughout the Roman Empire but after the persecution of the Apostles Luke is struggling to maintain this unified tradition and for that purpose he has written this Gospel account. In both cases they are struggling to offer a common understanding so that the Word can take root in all of us with our different experiences, talents and personalities while maintaining its authentic singular message that is based on God’s love and common relationship with us all.
For us Catholics the Church is the institution from which we continue to comprehend the challenging Word of God in the context of our ever changing world. While the Church continues to pronounce on issues of faith and dogma the Church also addresses new social issues that had never surfaced in the ancient world. It is the duty of our Church to offer its guidance based on its reflection on revelation and tradition to help develop us into a community that can respond to social issues that confront us. In this manner the Church has made its position felt on economic globalization in the Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The Pope has also offered a teaching on the issue of climate change in his recent World Day of Peace Message. With the great catastrophe that affected Haiti last week the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops has also offered its social position to protect in any way the devastated Haitian community by asking us to donate at the Sunday Mass and by advocating to the President to grant Haitians in the United States temporary protected status. These are social issues and they are not of themselves dogmatic objects of revealed faith such as our belief in the Resurrection or in the mystery of the Eucharist but they are themselves social doctrines that are related to the faith and morals of our revealed tradition.
As Americans we are fond of saying that people have a right to their opinion and of course they are. Even in our own Catholic Church we also assent to this individual right insofar as our God given conscience is regarded as a prominent vehicle from which we come to discern the decisions we must make. But let us keep in mind the struggle that Paul reminds us of whereby our individual parts must ultimately serve one body. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored; all the parts share its joy.
The Church offers many social teachings and many of us may struggle with some of the Church’s social positions, I know I do. Paul, Ezra and Luke are not calling us to mindless zombies. We are called to embrace our own dignity but at the service of all creation which comes from God. It will be impossible for us who experience our own lives from only one vantage point to be able to see and value the dignity and experiences of all God’s creation. For that reason it is important for us to be challenged by the position of a global Church that happens to share in the experiences of people throughout the world.
In Haiti, one part of the human community is suffering greatly. Our Church has called us to action so that we can respond to the suffering of one of our members. This now is the opportunity for us to embrace the one body and to heal a section that has been devastated.
John Gonzalez is the director of the Passionist Office for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC). He lives with his family in New York. Visit the JPIC website at www.passionistjpic.org.