In reading through today’s gospel on the appointing of the Apostles, I have to think both of the society of that time, and society today. The readings of the past few days concerned the confrontations between the Pharisees and Jesus. They painted a picture of the social and political climate of the day, they also conclude with Jesus leaving that place with his disciples. The society then was a theocracy where civil and religious leaders were one in the same. There are various fractions battling for control, and when ever there is a political power struggle there are negotiations, and close door deals, and compromises. In that way there are numerous similarities between first century Jerusalem and twenty first century Washington DC. There are differences too, as those in charge were not elected officials but were leaders who won by the sword negotiating with conquered leaders trying to negotiate deals for themselves and for their patrons. The leaders that Jesus confronts are not simply scholars, their decisions carry some very real life consequences.
In thinking then of the Pharisees, I can begin to separate them from simply the religious aspects of their faith. I can begin to view their interest in national affairs that are today the department of today’s politicians. They too had their versions of political action committees, special interest groups, political opponents, and conflicting ideologies. I can view them as being locally very powerful, but nationally nearly insignificant. Their decisions among their community were supreme, but among the national leaders they were nearly meaningless. If they made decisions that made life for the national leaders easier they could be tolerated. If they flexed their authority too much they were dead. Such was their bartending table. They bartered, and bargained, and compromised as if their life depended on it. They argued between Jews, and both with and against the Roman Empire. No easy task.
Lets now leap forward two thousand years, and look at today’s society in the light of that society of two thousand plus years ago. Granted, Americans do not live in a theocracy like the ancient residents of Judea did, though many throughout the word stilt do. Look at America though. It’s politicians do promote both a civil code and a moral code. That moral code often has to be seen in light of a particular belief system. A belief system can also be referred to as a Religion. Since this is a Catholic exploring Catholic issues, me thinks I will look at Catholic politicians promoting a political parties moral code. Often in today’s society the moral issues being promoted in a society are in direct opposition to Catholic teaching. Abortion and the gay agenda are probably two of the best political issues Catholic politicians must consider in light of their Catholic faith. Both these issues are being promoted by the liberal parties, and the Democrats who those liberals belong. Often too it has been the tradition of Catholic politicians to join the ranks of the Catholic Democrats. It is a liaison that formed decades ago between Catholics and the Labor Unions. Catholic politicians were supporters of the labor movement, and that is not a bad thing. They also supported health care, and many government programs, all of which were not necessarily a bad thing. None of these were in opposition to their Church. Things change though. First, the legalization of divorce, a non Catholic agenda. Then abortion, then the gay agenda. All which are against their faiths Catholic teachings. Yet these politicians must reconcile their duties as elected officials with their faith. Sometimes these politicians faith is a minor component to their beliefs, sometimes it the driving force of their life. It is no matter though, they are in the same predicament as those Pharisees. Their dilemma is not nearly as deadly to them, but still they are in the position of bartending their faith against their office. Bartering, compromising, winning an election, maintaining power are all objectives. Faith is one part of the puzzle, and history tells it is often the most compromised. The scenario is so similar to that of first century Judea.
Jesus went up the mountain and summoned those whom he wanted
and they came to him.
He appointed Twelve, whom he also named Apostles,
that they might be with him
and he might send them forth to preach
and to have authority to drive out demons
Now then when Jesus withdraws from the Pharisees, I can see what he withdrew from. It was not simply the Pharisees beliefs; Jesus beliefs many times were not in conflict with theirs. What he withdrew from then was something different. He did not barter deals by compromising with the Father. He did not endorse the bad to gain a little bit of good. He gathered his Apostles with the singular mission of restoring a relationship with God, and of being obedient to that God without compromise. He did not corrupt a relationship between God and man for political favor. Jesus maintained and preached incorruptibility. That then points to a separation not of simply Theology, but a separation of Good and Evil. He did not endorse a covenant that was being corrupted, but instead followed one that restored a true relation between God and man, and between mankind. His departure from the Pharisees was not an easy way out, far from it. It was though a way free from deceit.
I think of that withdrawal from the Pharisees as I ponder and negotiate the culture of today. I can accept the compromises and bartering that is done in contemporary culture. I can choose to go with the mainstream of todays culture, and I can do so comfortably. I can also go the route of Jesus and withdraw from the compromises and corruptions of todays culture and follow the path he laid out. The choice is mine, but do I want to be a Christian who makes compromises simply to gain some power, prestige, or to simply fit in? I think not. I think it is better to follow the example of those Apostles and leave all of that behind and truly follow Him. It might not get me elected into office, or gain me an important business deal, and it might even generate some anger against me. To follow one means to go against another, but that is after all what it means to be Christian; to follow the path of Christ without compromise in hope of residing in His promise of that Kingdom of God.