Jeremiah (11:18-20) uttered his prophecies in the 7th century BCE when Israel was under siege from Babylon. Jeremiah’s prophetic statements were not appreciated by the powers. Jeremiah, like a trusting lamb, does not realize that they want to do away with him. It seems that people do not like dire messages of reform and repentance from prophets in any age. Jeremiah places his trust, not in his own power and words, but in God. He looks to God to deliver him from his enemies.
Religious leaders really have not changed much over the centuries. This week Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit issued a sweeping condemnation of the American Catholic Council which will meet in Detroit on Pentecost weekend 2011 to reclaim the heritage of Vatican II. It is interesting that, like the Pharisees of every generation, he never define s specific “heresies” endorsed by the ACC (http://www.aodonline.org/AODOnline/News%20%20%20Publications%202203/Press%20Releases%202303/2010%2017543/ACCStatement.htm). Thinking he is some kind of feudal lord who can control every event in his fiefdom of Detroit, the Archbishop has had the unmitigated gall to ask the ACC not to meet in Detroit. When ACC meets in Detroit will it cost the archbishop his cardinal’s hat? We have bad news for you, Archbishop Vigneron. We are coming to Detroit and the numbers are swelling. This is 21st century America and we will not be dismissed or silenced.
Beginning with Pope Paul VI on birth control and no discussion of married clergy at Vatican II and regressing through the reigns of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI we have seen concerted efforts to deny the truth of Vatican II. The Vatican empire has struck back. ACC is a grass roots effort to restore the gains of Vatican II.
The ACC has publicly stated its prophetic goals (www.americancatholiccouncil.org). The key to prophetic action is to prayerfully discern what is called for and then to preach the message in season and out of season. The ACC has conducted listening sessions across the country in order to discern the truth of Vatican II. Merton reminds us that, in addition to prophetic action, we are called to apostolic action—teaching and counseling and changing hearts and minds slowly but surely. In all cases, we leave the results to God.
The Psalmist reminds us that we can always take refuge in God. In fact, the only thing that really matters is our relationship with God and with one another.
Here (Jn 7:40-53) we have the “Can the messiah come from Galilee?” theme. When the nativity stories were added to Matthew and Luke, both evangelists took great pains to show that Jesus was from the house of David. They placed his birth in Bethlehem and used the device of a census, which never occurred in history, as the mechanism for getting Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Matthew’s genealogy of generations and begats and begots is an attempt to link Jesus to David. The Bethlehem stories are what Bishop Spong calls interpretative stories. Historically, I believe Jesus was born in Nazareth; he was, therefore, from Galilee.
John does not follow the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke. He has Jesus’ opponents openly debating with his supporters over his origins and claims to messiahship. Jesus will disappoint their dreams of a Davidic dynasty restored. “My kin-dom is not of this world.”
Before we get too hooked on our feeble attempts to conceptualize Jesus, we too should heed Nicodemus’ warning. Do we condemn those who believe that Jesus was nonviolent before we hear out the evidence? Do we reject Jesus calls to make the “least among us” our paradigm for budgets and polices before we listen to him? Do we reject his message of peace as unrealistic when there are so many bad people out to get us? Do we reject calls to abandon nuclear weapons before we understand the church’s teaching on war and nuclear proliferation? Do we think that it is not government’s responsibility, in union with non-profits, to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and to shelter the homeless? Do we reject calls for the ordination of women before we thoroughly examine the outmoded cultural beliefs, women leadership in the early church, and justice for all within the church?
Or, do we enter into contemplative union with Jesus and listen attentively to his message before we harden our hearts? We cannot be schizophrenic and have one set of values in our religious lives and another in our political lives. Jesus calls us to live his message in all circumstances.
The early church for the first three centuries lived in opposition to the values of the Empire. The early Christians lived the message Jesus preached. Many died as martyrs. Women served as liturgical leaders. When the church let Constantine co-opt it, the people of God got comfortable with the aggrandizing and grandiose values of empire—patriarchy, greed, domination, and war. As Francis of Assisi wisely said, “If we have possessions, we have to have weapons to defend them.” Our security is not in weapons. Our only security is ion the God who made the heavens and the earth.
Listen to the Jeremiah’s of today. Do not cast them into pits. People are preaching the word of God today. They are calling us to account for our sins of racism, sexism, classcism, consumerism and militarism. They are calling us to account for how we treat women in the church and immigrants and gays. They are calling us to live Gospel values.
The predominant Gospel value is the infinite love of God which has been poured out on us so that we can love and serve one another. We are not here to judge others. We are here to take up the towel and bowl and wash one another’s feet.