1 Cor 10:31-11:1
For us Christians in today’s world and church, Paul’s exhortation to avoid treading on anyone’s toes seems almost inane, given the level of offence the churches have caused. It has gone far beyond this. It is about neglect, abuse and crime. In the living memory of generations, the Church has smashed every single piece of “china”, and we are standing amidst the debris of broken lives and broken trust. While we – some painfully slow with an institutional arthritis centuries-old – are still in the process of getting down on our knees to pick up the pieces, society has largely banned us from its premises. Fewer and fewer people are willing to share a loyalty card with us. No Church official who, brush in hand, has earnestly and responsibly tried his/her best or is taking up office these days is to be envied. Sad truth is that it will take a generation, if not longer, to rebuild the trust so nefariously betrayed by some and paid for by so many.
This, however, is a challenge we cannot but accept. For the mission to proclaim the Gospel and bring others the “Good News” has not ceased nor has it been taken from us. Where will we start? In this context, we need to return once more to Paul’s instruction. He urges us ‘never [to] do anything offensive to anyone’ – neither to our fellow Christians nor to people of other faiths or none. That does not make us conformists but it calls us to carefully and open-mindedly engage with society. A favourite buzz word among many religious is their claim to be counter-cultural, seen as engagement in the fight against injustice, poverty, consumerism, destruction of the planet etc. While this trait marks the Church at its best, there is, however, a lurking temptation – the temptation to devalue society. As if there could not be goodness, justice and respect in the world without us believers! We only need to look from where inspiration has come during the COVID-19 pandemic to see that this is not so. Counter-cultural at its worst involves an arrogant or indeed pseudo-humble sense of superiority – which others now see through and dismiss immediately – and the delusional and dangerous claim of being above society and its laws. We need to be careful how we define ourselves. It seems to me, that the central question for us today is not how to fix the world but how to engage with everything that is good in it ‘for the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved’. We will be less visible, less “special”, less authoritative but truly on a par with the rest of society. Then, and only then, will we be able to regain trust and give relevant and authentic witness to the Gospel that is entrusted to us.
This Sunday’s Gospel invites us to this change of perspective. The healed leper goes against Jesus’s explicit instruction and, by his very disregarding, becomes an apostle. If that is what God can do who is to say where today’s prophets are?
Sr. Sabine Schratz OP