Jesus preached in a socially stratified society. Carpenters begat carpenters, fishermen begat fishermen, kings begat kings and priests begat priests. It was unlikely that people would have lives different from their parents, but it was not impossible. For Jewish men advancement could be found through religion. To keep its power the temple priesthood had sided with the Romans and had little practical connection with the people. So that the profound teachings of Judaism be passed down, the laity developed the synagogues. Literally, a synagogue is a place of meeting where they could learn the law and the other traditions of their people. There were readings from the Bible and then a literate person would give a commentary. A learned Rabbi was rarely available, so someone would read the writings of an established teacher. Not exciting, but effective and it was the best way for a Jew who wished to remain faithful to his religion and people to advance. Thus, any role in the synagogue was highly coveted.
Those who were to become the Apostles knew this and although we should not doubt the sincerity of their belief in and profound attraction to Jesus following him was a way to be acknowledged as a rabbi and attain social and perhaps financial advancement. They envisioned themselves as leading synagogues in the tradition of Jesus throughout Judea and Galilee.
This is of course not a bad thing. Today Paul instructs his protégé Timothy on how to be a good local leader. Keeping the individual churches functioning is very important and requires the virtues of prudence and moderation. But it is not enough or more precisely it must be balanced with boldness and sometimes impetuousness to prevent the Church from being too focused on herself.
Today’s parable is a forceful reminder of what else is needed. The steward, rightfully called dishonest, moves quickly and effectively to protect himself. His master, however regretfully, commended him and admired how he took advantage of a difficult situation. We hear Jesus’ voice in this. To establish the church, he needed people of daring and ingenuity who would be unafraid of the consequences of their boldness. The word apostle means one who is sent with authority and scripture tells us that Peter who might have expected to head a synagogue in Capernaum, not only died for Jesus but in Rome.
This is always needed but especially today. The Church is not effectively communicating with most people in the global north, and it seems a common response has been to talk louder. It is good to remember a definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Jesus Christ is always Lord and Savior and the way to the Father, and we need double daring, first not to change the basic message of the Gospel when it would be convenient to do so but second to express it differently and most likely with different people and a different sense of what is of greatest importance. This will not come easily and if history is any guide will not be the result of good planning as much as inspired innovation.
This has been our experience at St Charles.
Before COVID, our leadership understood that with the lack of priests more would need to be done by lay people and they started to prudently and responsibly attain this goal. Then COVID happened, and we saw that it was the work and creativity of our laypeople that kept the parish alive and vibrant. We cannot unsee what we have seen.
During that time many parishioners volunteered at the Catholic Charites food pantry on Joralemon Street. Members of the parish with superb organizational and leadership skills realized that the work could be done more effectively at St Charles and moved it here. They modified it so that it could provide for many more families than previously which given the increase in food insecurity was fortuitous.
Although we knew that there would be an increase in homelessness in our city and we planned to do something, the transportation of Venezuelan asylum seekers to our very doorstep has made this an immediate issue. Volunteers will be requested every week for the foreseeable future although I don’t know exactly for what in advance. Given our previous history, the problem du jour will be solved through the work experience of our members.
This kind of direct action is not what our parents and the godparents we honor today signed us on for at Baptism and all are not called to do it, but I request that today you ask if you are called to be not only a faithful Christian but a bold one.