21st Sunday in ordinary time: Shechem today
Today’s readings: Joshua 24, 1-2.15-18; Ephesians 5, 21-32; John 6, 60-69.
There is very little doubt that the Church is now at a make or break situation. There seems to be no end to the tsunami of the sex abuse crimes on the part of the clergy, including bishops and cardinals. Many keep asking when the light at the end of this dark tunnel will shine.
Today’s scriptures sound quite timely and providential, if we really want to have a more thorough viewpoint of the situation exclusively from the standpoint of God’s word. Coupled with this, we have the letter Pope Francis last Monday addressed to the entire ecclesial community in a moment of great tribulation.
Today’s gospel text from St John gives account of a particular moment in the mission of Jesus when many of those following him were leaving. Now we’ve come to a point when people are leaving not because they are upset with what we say, as in the case of Jesus. People are now upset with what we do and because we continue to be in denial where demand and supply are concerned. There seems to be discrepancy between what people are in search of and need and what we are providing them with.
The Pope’s letter to the people of God today echoes the choice that Joshua in the first reading is putting before the people at a moment that was also dramatic for God’s people. Joshua, as successor of Moses, had a daunting task in bringing the people to the promised land. Moses had brought them out of Egypt, and Joshua’s great challenge was that the people were still with their gaze on the past.
Joshua, as a leader, had to decide where the past ends and where the future begins. The Jews were risking to bring the slavery of Egypt with them in the promised land. They kept extending their past into the future without acknowledging that God can be creative and innovative.
Francis today, like Joshua then, is putting priority on the great challenge to let go of our clericalism which corroded the entire system and reduced our ministry to power over people’s conscience. Writing in Commonweal magazine about this present drama, author Rita Ferrone affirms that systemic problems need systemic solutions. The present state the Church is in now, is a systemic problem.
Simply identifying the culprits is not going to solve the problem. There are much deeper issues embedded in the very structure of the Church, issues relating to the exercise of authority, to power dynamics, to a clerical culture that has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are serious imbalances in the way the Church functions which today are rendering it simply dysfunctional. There has to be a remedy to all this. It is not the reform we dreamt of in Vatican Council II and which we reduced to a reform of structures. Pope Francis speaks of the antidote and of a new form of solidarity “that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable”.
Motives of faith and mission can so easily give in to a craze for power, privilege and advancement. St Paul in the second reading to Ephesians points to the remedy precisely “in the way Christ treats the Church”. He sacrificed himself for her to make her holy.
These are dramatic times which call for real discernment. Discernment about what the Church exists for, about what serving our people means. Discernment that will show us that the only way out of this crisis is conversion. Not the spiritualistic type of conversion, but the conversion that changes radically our way of relating with people and our way of perceiving our ministry in the ecclesial community. It is the Shechem type of conversion that Joshua is proposing to God’s people and which distils the religion which is only a parody of belief from the religion that really saves and opens the way for the living God in the lives of people.