Thursday, November 8, 2012

The best of the Church

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
November 4, 2012

Mark 12: 38-44

The contrast between the two scenes couldn't be stronger. In the first, Jesus puts the people on guard against religious leaders: "Beware of the scribes!", their behavior can be very harmful. In the second, he calls his disciples to take note of the gesture of a poor widow: ordinary people can teach them to live out the Gospel.

The hard and sure language that Jesus uses to unmask the false religion of the scribes is surprising. He can't stand their vanity and desire for ostentation. They seek to dress a special way and be greeted with reverence to stand out over others, impose, and dominate.

They use religion to feed fatuity. They recite "long prayers" to impress. They don't create community since they put themselves above everyone else. Basically, they're just thinking of themselves. They live taking advantage of the weak whom they should be serving.

Mark doesn't gather Jesus' words to condemn the scribes that were in the Temple of Jerusalem before its destruction, but to put the Christian communities for whom he is writing on guard. Religious leaders are to be servants of the community. Nothing more. If they forget it, they're a danger to all. You have to react so they don't do damage.

In the second scene, Jesus is seated opposite the Temple treasury. Many rich people are throwing in significant amounts -- they're the ones who support the Temple. Suddenly a woman approaches. Jesus notes that she throws in two small copper coins. She's a poor widow, battered by life, alone and without resources. She probably lives by begging near the Temple.

Moved, Jesus calls his disciples quickly. They mustn't forget this woman's gesture, because although she's in need, "she has thrown in everything she had to live." While the learned are taking advantage of religion, this woman has let go of everything for others, trusting completely in God.

Her gesture reveals the heart of true religion -- great trust in God, surprising gratuity, generosity and loving solidarity, simplicity and truth. We don't know the name of this woman or her face. We only know that Jesus saw in her a model for the future leaders of his Church.

Today too, so many women and men of simple faith and generous heart are the best we have in the Church. They don't write books or give sermons, but they're the ones who keep the Gospel of Jesus alive among us. We priests and bishops must learn from them.

What's most important

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 29, 2012

Mark 12: 28-34

A scribe approaches Jesus. He hasn't come to set a trap for him. Nor to argue with him. His life is based on laws and norms that show him how to behave every moment. However, a question is stirring in his heart: "Which is the first of all the commandments?" What is most important to succeed in life?

Jesus understands very well what that man is feeling. When norms and precepts, customs and rituals, accumulate in a religion, it's easy to be dispersed, not knowing exactly what is essential to guide one's life in a healthy manner. Some of this was happening in certain sectors of Judaism.

Jesus doesn't quote Moses' commandments to him. He simply reminds him of the prayer they had both recited that morning as the sun came up, following Jewish custom: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart."

The scribe is thinking of a God who has the power to command. Jesus places him before a God whose voice we must listen to. The most important thing isn't knowing the precepts and fulfilling them. The crucial thing is to stop and listen to this God who speaks without human words.

When we listen to the true God, an attraction towards love awakens within us. It isn't exactly an order. It's what springs from us when we open ourselves to the ultimate Mystery of life: "You shall love." In this experience, there are no religious intermediaries, no theologians or moralists. We don't need anyone from outside to tell us. We know that what's important is to love.

This love of God isn't a sentiment or an emotion. To love the One who is the source and origin of life is to live loving life, creation, things and, above all, people. Jesus speaks of loving "with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your being." Without mediocrity or self-interested calculations. Generously and trustingly.

However, Jesus adds something that the scribe hasn't asked. This love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. One can only love God by loving one's brother. Otherwise, the love of God is a lie. How are we going to love the Father without loving His sons and daughters?

We Christians don't always mind this synthesis of Jesus'. Often, we tend to confuse love of God with religious practices and fervor, ignoring the practical love and solidarity towards those who are living socially excluded and forgotten by religion. But, what is true in our love for God if we live with our back turned to those who are suffering?