23 Jun 2013
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)
In the name …
So last Saturday we’re taking the bus into New York City and a billboard ad quickly caught my attention. With a deep purple background and bold yellow letters, it read: “The first person to live to 150 is alive today. Let’s get ready for a longer retirement.” The advertisement was produced by the Prudential Insurance Company for obvious reasons, but it got me to thinking about a lot more than retirement. 150 years ago was the Civil War. I’m sure that the Civil War generation could not have imagined our world today. And likewise, we have just as much chance of predicting what 2163 will be like, but someone, somewhere on this globe right now, will most likely still be alive in 2163. With the study of the human genome and daily advances in medicine and health care, it is quite possible that within a few decades, even the astounding idea of living for 150 years may well sound uneventful. These very real possibilities are going to fundamentally change us as individuals and as societies. It’s scary. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. And it’s also quite natural.
Our lives and our world are always changing, and religion is only trying to fool herself if she thinks that she is outside of this continual process, if she thinks she can hide herself from it, protect herself from it. And the more important questions is, why would she want to? Religion is about relating and responding to the life of God among us now. We don’t need to wear sandals and tunics to meet Jesus in an attempt to meet Him where He once was. We meet Him here and now in our world. And this is not watering down the faith. This is the way faith works.
Let’s go back to today’s Gospel for an example. It’s the rather famous story of Peter’s confession of faith. Jesus is alone with His disciples. He’s getting ready to tell them about His eventual crucifixion, but before He does this He asks them the question: “‘Who do you say that I am?’” (Lk 9:20a) And Peter quickly blurts out, “‘The Messiah of God.’” (9:20b) Now I’m not sure how detailed your biblical memory is, but I’ll bet more than a few of you then hear Jesus say to Peter: ‘Blessed are you …Upon this rock I will build my church … I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matt. 16:17, 18) This passage is how we can always tell that Peter’s statue stands on the Epistle side of the Main Altar because you can see Peter holding the keys of the kingdom. But Luke never says this. Neither does Mark upon whom he bases his Gospel. All of these words about Peter are found only in Matthew, and Matthew is the Jewish-Christian Gospel, and Peter was a hero of the Jewish-Christian church. This would make a lot more sense to you if you came to our Bible study group, as a matter of fact it meets this Tuesday, but what I hope we can all see is that even the biblical text itself changes to meet the needs of believers of a particular place, time and situation. There was a reason for Matthew to write what he did. This is not to undermine the Bible’s lasting authority. This is to make it, in the words of the First Epistle of Peter, “the living and abiding Word of God.” (1:23)
The same thing is happening in today’s Lesson from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. I love this Letter. It is unprotected Paul. He’s angry and upset. His words are visceral. They’re coming out without the usual filters. And in this unprotected moment Paul speaks freely about the fundamental equality of the Christian church. There are no ethnic divisions, political ones or even gender. For as Paul writes, “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” (3:28) Paul is arguing that believing in Christ is what makes us right with God so all other distinctions are unimportant. And again, this would make more sense if I could talk you into attending Bible study group, but there are a number of Letters that claim to be written by Paul, but are actually written a generation after Paul, and one of them is the Letter to the Colossians. By this time the church is seeking less revolution and more accommodation within society. All of sudden there’s talk of Christian households where the original Paul was expecting the quick return of Jesus and the end of time so there was no need to speak of households. And as the church became more settled, all of a sudden that radical equality we read today in Galatians became a bit of an embarrassment. So the next generation began to tone it down. Now we hear that in the church there is no longer Jew or Greek, just like in Galatians, no longer slave or free, just like in Galatians, but something is missing, and missing on purpose. Colossians leaves out gender equality. In the original Galatians, women are the equal of men, at least in the church, but by the next generation, they’ve again taken the back seat because that’s where they were in society at large, and the church wanted to be a part of that society. For all those who work to maintain that old model of male dominance, whether in society – think about the show Mad Men, or in the family or in the church, and think that this is being faithful to the tradition of Jesus and the apostles, they should realize that it’s the reversal of the model of the earliest church and even of Jesus Himself. It’s an innovation and it’s that idea that traditionalists hate, it’s accommodating society at large.
Change is part of the tradition that keeps faith relevant. It’s the natural result of the fact that all of us who are baptized are clothed with Christ, as says St. Paul. We all come together as church and bring all sorts of expectations and experiences along with each of us, and that’s exactly the tradition of the biblical church. Change isn’t being unfaithful; sterility is. As we visited the aircraft carrier Intrepid last weekend, one of the crewmen interviewed for a movie about the ship said that there were 32 hundred men aboard, but when the command came down, they all acted as one. That’s also the power of church. Church has the grace to focus all of our gifts so that we can do so much more together than we can alone, but church is also empowered in part by the spark of Christ that each of us brings to the community, and that’s why we should look honestly at the restrictions we place in church on service, especially during this Sacred Vocations month. Christ is leading us somewhere, with the word us being absolutely essential, so let’s not settle for where we are. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo