Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 74

If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it! If I do so willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship.



Just as an ethically-compromised president arrived in the White House, accompanied by a Congress fatally immobilized by partisan politics, a critique of authority rose onto the American scene. Soon after the ("so-called") inauguration the Women's March spawned the Me-Too protest.
The poet William Wordsworth might say of our time, "Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive / But to be young was very heaven.”
The Catholic Church, unfortunately, found itself in the vanguard of this uprising, as reports of priest pedophilia erupted in the news media in February, 2002. But the story had been brewing since the late 1970's, beginning in Lafayette,Louisiana.
Saint Paul was well aware of his authority to preach the gospel as an apostle, and of the ever-present possibility of abuse. He saw his opponents -- he derided them as "super apostles" -- had gone to the dark side of the gospel. They were "perverting the truth to draw the disciples..." away from the Church and under their own power.
If business, sports, politics and entertainment are naturally fertile fields for exploitation, religion is far more so. We know that business people, athletes, politicians and entertainers serve their own ends first. They have invested much in their careers; but we want to believe our religious leaders made sacrifices, not investments. They were sent to us not by their intelligence, experience or talents, but by the Lord. If they need and deserve our material support their lifestyle should nonetheless be as simple as ours. 
When we turn our faces toward religion we open our hearts to the message and the messengers. Evil persons see that availability as as an open invitation to exploitation. They might even excuse their perfidy saying we did it to ourselves. Jesus said of such people, "It would be better for them had they never been born." and "They should have a millstone bound around their necks and dumped into the sea."
Inevitably, many victims will first blame themselves, and then the religion. Naturally reluctant to blame those who appeared to be so good, whose credentials seemed impeccable, who came with all the standard authorizations and recommendations, they must conclude the religion itself is evil.
Responding to the boasts of "super apostles", Saint Paul touted his own credentials: failure, poverty and incompetence. Though well educated he did not have the stentorian voice of public speakers, nor was he schooled in their stock phrases of persuasion. He could not, and would not, wrap his teaching in whatever expressions and words were used to sway public opinion of that time. (Modern persuaders use vague words like freedom, taxpayer money, and liberal/conservative.)
After some disappointing experiences in Athens, Saint Paul decided to appeal only to the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and to Jewish traditions. Those who knew their religion would recognize the Messiah. Gentiles, already attracted by the ethical/moral standards of Jewish religion, would also recognize the Crucified Messiah in Paul's preaching.
But he insisted he had no reason to boast of preaching the gospel for he was simply fulfilling a duty laid upon him. He could not exploit his office for profit or pleasure.
Today's gospel describes a chaotic scene which Jesus might have used to his own advantage. People were coming to him by the hundred and thousands, from every direction. Clearly, he had the power to heal!. They wanted him; they believed in him; they loved him. What could be wrong with that? With his power he could build hospitals to accommodate every one; and, with growing influence, to challenge the authorities in Jerusalem and Rome!
Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Jesus must be obedient to his Father and to the Spirit which impels him. If that disappoints the crowds, and Simon and those who were with him, so be it.

With that he showed us what true integrity does. If our leaders cannot shrug off their authority; if they move to defend their strength, they do not deserve our fealty. They are slaves of their own power, and should be ousted from whatever office they hold; and especially from a religious office. Only those who are willing to suffer humiliation, helplessness and poverty should have our obedience.

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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.