Monday, April 21, 2008

Pope got it right, but did the Apostles?

I think Benedict had a very fruitful visit to the US. I was very impressed with the way he addressed the sexual abuse scandals head-on from the outset of his trip--on the plane before even arriving on US soil. I think it was healing to hear the pope say that he was "deeply ashamed" by what happened. He could have ignored it or brushed it off like so many Catholics as a media created problem. Instead he owned, embraced it and sought reconciliation for it. He met with victims and heard their stories. Very powerful, very healing.

On another note...

Yesterday's first reading at mass was from Acts 6:1-7. It's the story of the first deacons. Apparently, there were some issues between the Gentile & Jewish Christian widows not being treated fairly in the distribution of food. The Apostles gathered everyone together and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table." Then they asked for the community to nominate trustworthy men to handle this task so the could "devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." So my question is, "Did the Apostles get it wrong?"

Let's face it, the bible is full of stories of God's chosen leaders making mistakes. Abraham had Ishmael before Isaac. Moses struck the rock twice instead of once. Saul took a census. David had the Bathsheba affair. The Apostles themselves continued to miss the point throughout their time with Jesus. They argued over who was greatest among them. They tried to send the crowds away before Jesus fed them with a few loaves and fish. They tried to keep the children from Jesus. They grumbled when the woman anointed Christ's feet with oil. Peter cut off the servants ear then denied Jesus. All of them fled. Peter and Paul argued over treatment of Gentile converts.

So, why should we assume that in this instance they got right? In fact, this could be a case of them acting as they did with the crowds and children. Their actions seem to be very different that what we know of how Christ acted. He tried to teach them the importance of serving the "least of these". He wrapped the towel around his waist and washed their feet--to the dismay of Peter--to demonstrate the importance of leading through serving. They always seemed to be caught up in the leading thing, but not so much the serving thing. Is that what was at work in this decision? It seems like they were saying "We're too important & our time is too valuable to get caught up worrying about how the widows are cared for or how food is distributed to the poor so let's delegate this to someone else to worry about."

Is this the start of the separation of clergy & laity? Is this the birth of the idea that pastors are the ones primarily responsible for the "spiritual" jobs in the church? Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, every denomination has this attitude seemingly built in to the congregation. Professional ministers are somehow more special than the rest of us & we need to set things up for them to devote all of their time to spiritual things. Is this a hand-me-down from the Apostles? Were they wrong to separate the spiritual and temporal? Am I wrong to question this?


Tom Mohan said...

Interesting point. I think I read it that they were busy doing such things up to this point - and that it was noble enough a calling that they appointed special ministers to carry it out. There was so much going on then I expect it was overwhelming.

yakobus said...

i can't help but wonder how many times this story has been used to justify pastoral laziness. i probably shouldn't be reading this on the Southeastern Campus. i'll be expecting a call from the new student life director tomarrow.

tom said...

Tom - I've always heard it interpreted in the way you're describing it, but when I look at the passage it really seems like the Apostles are saying "we don't have time to deal with this dirty work because we have heavenly things to do". Then when I consider their track record of missing the point when Jesus was right there with them it just makes me wonder.

Jacob - just make sure no one's looking over your shoulder, but if you do get called in take a Sam Adams with & tell them it's okay 'cuz you're Catholic now.