Father Matewusz Stachowski OFM Conventual gave the homily on the first reading today. Regrettably, his homily misinterpreted this reading. The reading is:
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. The Twelve called together the community of the disciples, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
Regrettably, Father chose to interpret this passage in light of Jesus’ statements about being peaceful, and how we need to be a peaceful community. A very Pauline doctrine is that we need to not quarrel one with another, and understood properly this is true. This is not what the first reading was about.
OK, in a sense it is. At the macroscopic level, this passage is very much about peace, and how to establish it. The quarrel in this case centers on the Hellenic members of the congregation and the problem they had taking care of the widows among them. These poor women were not getting enough food, clothing, and shelter. As a result, their kin complained to the church elders for an address to the grievance.
Another problem in the community is that the elders were not like Jesus. They were more interested in “Spirituality,” understood as prayer and ritual. They wanted no part of the day to day operation of the community, as Jesus was. Their solution was picking seven more leaders from the community to run this nuts and bolts operation of running the community.
Father Matewusz Stachowski makes the mistake of pointing to the Pauline doctrine against quarreling. Instead of looking at the macroscopic level and seeing how the dispute was about some taking more than they needed, the Hebrew members, and curbing this excess, Father Matewusz Stachowski chose to chastise the Hellenic people in the congregation, those who really do not have enough, who are suffering at the hands of the more established members of the community. Dorothy Soelle was correct in noting how this is sadistic.
Jesus is not against reporting abuse when we see it. Matthew 18:21-35, The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, is a case in point. Verse 31 in this story points to the problem. The king has forgiven the debts of a servant, who has then, feeling humiliated probably at having to ask the king for forgiveness of debts, then goes and makes those who owe him money pay up. Verse 31 is the point where the story turns. Other servants see the abuse and turn the unforgiving servant into the king, who takes revenge. Jesus, in relating this turning point, clearly expects and counts on the community to take action, and complain, when they see abuse. Father Matewusz Stachowski chastises them for doing this.
St. Augustine, in his interpretation of Exodus divides the 18 plus command statements in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 into Ten Commandments. In the process, he chooses to divide them into three and seven command statements, because the harp has three and ten strings. For St. Augustine, justice is about harmony.
In Book 2, Chapter 21 of his City of God St. Augustine defines a republic this way:
“As among the different sounds which proceed from lyres, flutes, and the human voice, there must be maintained a certain harmony which a cultivated ear cannot endure to hear disturbed or jarring, but which may be elicited in full and absolute concord by the modulation even of voices very unlike one another; so, where reason is allowed to modulate the diverse elements of the state, there is obtained a perfect concord from the upper, lower, and middle classes as from various sounds; and what musicians call harmony in singing, is concord in matters of state, which is the strictest bond and best security of any republic.”
The debate in the first reading, and the lesson for this Sunday, The Fifth Sunday of Easter, is about creating peace. The Ten Commandments, properly understood, is part of this. It is about creating harmony. This harmony begins with remembering what it was like to be slaves/menial labor in Egypt, oppression. It is about then getting that churning in our gut when we see others suffering and doing something.
Justice is about stopping the tuba when it drowns out the flute, the oboe, or the viola. Justice is about standing up when we see others suffering and the state is no longer in harmony, before things get out of control. This is what the Hellenic Christians did in the first reading. This is what the servants did in Matthew 18. This is what Jesus calls us to do in our society.
When the other members of the horn section correct the tuba players when they get out of harmony, they prevent the need for the orchestra conductor to do so. Correct things when they are small, and the audience may never know the tubas went out of harmony. The correction will be so slight as to not be noticed at all. Allow things to fester, as Father Matewusz Stachowski recommends, and the situation will deteriorate to the point the audience feels compelled to leave and the owner of the opera house feels compelled to end the song. This is the opposite of what God wants, what Jesus wants, and what the members of the orchestra, society wants. Better to get involved when things are small.
Father Matewusz Stachowski makes the mistake of confusing turning out back to injustice, with peace. He confuses not complaining when we see injustice with peace. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus did, and this is the exact opposite of what the first reading is all about.
The Gospel reading includes:
Philip told Jesus, ““Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells (Shekan) in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.”
Hebrew/Jewish faith has belief in who they call the Shekinah/the mutual indwelling, from the Tent of the Presence/Shekinah, Joshua/Jesus, and Moses went to when they went to see God. This Shekinah or mutual indwelling is feminine, as Ruach/breath/Spirit is feminine and Wisdom incarnate is feminine. This Shekinah is the Holy Spirit.
When we have Shekinah/mutual indwelling/Holy Spirit within us, we work to create the grand dance, perichorisis, where we indwell within each other and within the Trinity. This is what our homily is about today, not “Sucking it up,” when we encounter abuse and “living with it.” Father needs to go back and re-read his passage.