Thursday, January 18, 2007

Friday in the 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
They Will All Know Me…

Readings: Hebrews 8:6-13; Psalms 85:8 and 10, 11-12, 13-14; Mark 3:13-19

Reflecting on developments in our world some knowledgeable people have noted the ever-increasing degree of specialization in the various fields of learning. Take medicine for example. Whenever anyone gets seriously ill these days, it’s no longer enough just to see the friendly neighborhood general practitioner. You need to consult a specialist or even a few specialists if the ailment involves multiple areas of the body. The ongoing increase in the degree of specialization thus goes hand in hand with the multiplication of, and growing dependency upon, experts. We have no choice but to put our trust in those whose knowledge in their particular field of expertise far exceeds our own.

So when we hear, in today’s gospel, of Jesus appointing the Twelve, it won’t be too surprising if we quite naturally think of them also as experts in religion, specialists in the faith. And it’s also quite understandable if we extend the same opinion that we have of them to those whom we may consider their successors, namely the bishops of today, as well as to the priests and religious, the religious professionals. In a sense, we will be right, because bishops, priests and religious do devote years to the study of the faith and are also expected to cultivate a vibrant life of prayer. But are they really experts in the same way in which a neurosurgeon is an expert? Such that when it comes to matters concerning our salvation we cannot think for ourselves – what do we know? – but must always consult and defer to them? Is Jesus really appointing experts for us because we don’t have the capacity to grasp what he came to teach? Because, on our own, we are unable to receive the saving grace that he has to offer?

It would seem not, especially if we take seriously what we heard in the first reading today. We will recall that the writer has been engaged in an extended meditation on how Christ brings about a development in the notion of priesthood. Today, this development that Christ brings about is referred to as a new covenant. And, quoting from Jeremiah 31:31-34, the writer highlights a crucial way in which this covenant is new. I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts… There will be no further need for neighbor to try to teach neighbor… No, they will all know me, the least no less than the greatest… In stark contrast to the specialization we have been considering, the new covenant brings about a radical democratization of the knowledge of God. When it comes to matters of salvation people are no longer at the mercy of experts. In Christ, each person has free access to their God. Of course, this in no way means that we don’t continue to need people with expert knowledge in the faith, people such as scripture scholars and moral theologians for example. Neither does it mean that bishops, priests and religious do not continue to have a role, even a crucial role, to play in the hierarchical church. What it does mean, however, is that the kind of knowledge that is crucial for salvation is no longer the exclusive domain of a select and privileged few. In Christ, God freely offers to all the knowledge that leads to life.

To truly take this teaching to heart is to receive an awesome power, to experience a new freedom. And, as our friendly neighborhood Spiderman knows so well, with great power comes great responsibility. How are we wielding this power, how are we living out this responsibility today?

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris:

    I can empathize with what you wrote about specializations becos in my line of work, I'm always referring to "the experts". These are people who devote themselves exclusively to an exclusive domain knowledge, keep up with trends and enlighten the rest of the world by publicising what they know or have recently discovered.

    In that sense, we are all "experts" in the eyes of God. Why? Becos we are all expected to devote ourselves to a deeper understanding (knowledge) of what we believe and why we believe, keep up with how what we believe is current and relevant to today's world, and we were commissioned to make Jesus known to the ends of the earth and to the end of time. Yes, Christians are supposed to be experts. The problem is, some of us are content to be general practitioners or worse, some of us give up the practice of being truly Christian.

    And yes, God freely offers a deeper knowledge of Him and His Kingdom to those who seek. This is universal, irrespective of whether one is rich or poor, young or old, educated or not, talented or not. Isn't this at once marvellous as it is consoling? Isn't this good news? We only have to stay tuned through a wide prayer bandwith to constantly receive the good news.