Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 421


Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, in these words prophesy to them to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!


From our Jewish ancestors Christians inherited a healthy skepticism about leaders. Priests and kings are, after all, only human.


The Jews remembered their bondage in Egypt and the tyranny of the Egyptian priests. They enjoyed unquestioned authority over every facet of life in Egypt and were answerable only to the silent gods. Secured by deserts from foreign invasion and free of foreign intervention Egyptian rulers maintained control for three thousand years. (That’s hard to imagine but it’s true!) The kings were gods, the priests ruled and the people were always slaves. There was no upward mobility.
Escaping into the desert Moses taught his people they had only one king and that was the invisible God. The Lord chose prophets to speak for him but it was often difficult to tell the true prophet from the false. The better guide was God’s law. Religious and civil authorities were equally subject to custom and the Law.

Settling in Canaan, the “promised land,” the Jews managed with tribal leaders; they needed no king. During a crisis a “judge” might step forward to organize an armed defense and settle disputes but they had no permanent office. Only when the Philistines really started to oppress the Hebrews did they develop an interest in kingship.
Saul proved to be an able military king but did not survive to rule in peacetime. David succeeded Saul; when he and his thugs captured Jerusalem he declared it the capital of his kingdom. He solidified his rule when he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Mount Zion and its hilltop city, Salem. The “the city of peace,” became overnight Jerusalem, the Holy City. David’s son Solomon built a spectacular temple to house the Ark and the Hebrew prophets declared that all sacrifices of cattle, sheep, goats, pigeons, turtle doves and grain must be offered in the Temple and nowhere else.
Suddenly the new kingdom was starting to feel like the old Egyptian one. The Uriah/Bathsheba affair proved the king’s fallibility; Solomon’s thousand wives, oppressive taxation and forced labor projects scandalized the nation. Upon Solomon's death, David's kingdom split in two, Judah and Israel. History had proven that priests and kings are sinners like the rest of us.
Do I need to remind you the Catholic Church has fared no better? As Cardinal Dolan said, “You don’t need to tell me about sin in the Church; I’m a church historian!”

Would a better system improve our leadership? Should the Catholic Church be more democratic? Is a male-only, celibate priesthood hopelessly patriarchal and chauvinistic?

I have nothing against tinkering with the system but I don’t suppose it would make much difference. A church, city or nation gets the leadership it deserves. Corrupt voters choose corrupt politicians; corrupt worshippers breed corrupt ministers. No system can sidestep sin. 

Our hope is Jesus Christ, who sacrificed himself for our sake. A congregation that habitually makes sacrifice in the Spirit of Jesus will be led by ministers who also make sacrifice. They will suspect and discover unworthy ministers and defrock them, even when the process hurts. Obedient to the obedient Spirit of God, they will be inspired by worthy leaders; they will offer a worthy sacrifice to the Lord.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.