Thursday, March 07, 2013

Reflection on Luke 11:14–23—Gathering and Scattering

Today, I presided over my first communion service to fulfill a requirement for formation. This is the reflection I gave on today's gospel reading.

What does it mean to be “dumb”? Maybe that’s a dumb question. One can be dumb, as in clueless, and one can be dumb as in silent. One can be deaf and mute literally because of physical impairment or figuratively because of willfulness. In the context of this gospel, we can see that the healed man is physically unable to hear the good news, and unable to transmit it. He is cut off from others, cast out, scattered from communion. Jesus reaches out to the dumb man in this gospel and gathers him back into communion.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, are willfully dumb. They attribute Jesus’ power to Beelzebul, who was a Philistine god and one whose name was particularly offensive to Jews of the time. This tactic is what philosophers call “poisoning the well.” You associate someone arbitrarily with something so commonly repulsive that people can’t help but shrink back. We see this all the time in our political discourse. How many times was our Pope emeritus Benedict tarred with such a brush for the accident of his birth and early life in Nazi Germany? Sadly, it’s such a common tactic because it so frequently works.

What did Jesus do to warrant such a charge? He did something undoubtedly good. He gave someone who was cut off from most human discourse the ability to hear and speak. To credit such good as the work of evil is itself offensive. Scripture warns about such speech in Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call good evil, and evil good.” We see the this at work in our news and in our political speech, when evils that the Church condemns are proclaimed to be good because they are expedient: contraception, abortion, euthanasia. We hear popular figures denigrating Mother Theresa because of her radical ministry to the poor and dying in Calcutta. We hear our Catholic bishops slammed as misogynists because of their opposition to various modern trends. We hear messages on left and right of our political discourse condemning the wisdom of the Church as antiquated or naïve or oppressive. Of course, we should expect the Church and its teaching to be a challenge to us. It is, as Jesus was in His time, a sign of contradiction.

As Jesus frequently does, He turns the tables on the Pharisees. If Jesus drives out demons by the power of demons, Satan’s divided house cannot stand for long. The Pharisees reveal that their own houses are divided if they make such claims. Their sons also cast out demons. Does Beelzebul also aid them? Jesus warns the Pharisees, “He who is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”

We also are in a time when the forces of this world attempt to scatter rather than gather, even forces within our Church. In this uncertain time before the conclave, the forces of those who scatter will try their best to scatter us. We need to resist their efforts. Instead, we can gather with Christ. We are not deaf or mute. We can hear the Word, and we can share it with others. That is, after all, the mission of the laity: to make the Word present in the world in our words and deeds.

During this interregnum, it is good that we come together to celebrate this Eucharist, even when we can’t do so in its highest form, the Mass. The Eucharist is what draws us into communion with Jesus and each other, if we let its grace touch us. During this time of uncertainty, let us put our trust in Jesus’ promise, in the gift of His Body and Blood, and in His Divine mercy.
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