18 Sept. Tuesday of Week Twenty Four
1 Cor 12:12ff. The body is one and has many members. Many gifts, all at the service of the community, the body of Christ.
Luke 7:11ff. Jesus raises to life the dead son of a widow at Naim. The people respond with awe.
Variety of Christian Tasks
If we some key New Testament texts, beginning with the Gospel, then First Corinthians, and then the Pastoral Epistles, we can see the stages of development of church leadership. In the Gospel, at the sight of a widowed mother’s grief, Jesus spontaneously works a miracle. Corinthians puts miracle working fourth in a list of services in the church (with apostle, prophet, teacher, healer and others.) In the Pastorals the offices of apostle and miracle worker are not mentioned at all, and the focus is all on the roles of bishops, deacons, deaconess and (later) presbyters and widows.
As the church expanded in number throughout the Mediterranean world, and faced crises of internal cohesion and external persecution, its need of organization grew. We can see this paralleled in the development of an individual’s life. Children and youth are filled with hope and seem willing and able to become anything they choose; as young adults, they must choose a particular way of life yet they still bring new spirit and creative innovation within that vocation; finally, as mature adults they settle into their role with caution and conservatism.
Some ideas come to mind as we meditate on the evolution of roles in the church. First, the move from the charismatic to the organizational is normal and necessary. If the freer type of leadership is closer to the historical Jesus, the later church is also called the body of Christ. Paul says: The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body as is Christ. He reflects on the pastoral question, “Which of these is best adapted to the needs of church life?”
Clearly the more charismatic type of leadership carries more danger of splintering. Belief in miracles can result in mad fervor where religion becomes a cult, and the cult leader exercises absolute and lucrative control. On the other hand, we must respect the part played by miracles in the Bible and in church history. Whether in church or in our own personal lives, we must not lose faith in miracles or forget Jesus, the miracle worker. At any rate, concern for others should drive us to generosity to the poor, the sick, the helpless, the needy. We will be amazed at the results, which might border on the miraculous. To live happy lives we must always be ready for a miracle around the corner.
This combination of prudence and wonder is needed for health in the church and in life. The virtues expected of bishops and deacons are needed too: an even temper, self-control, modesty of demeanour, good management skills and the rest. But they cannot extinguish all surprise, charismatic fervour and even belief in miracles in the life of God’s people.
First Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to he hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honourable we invest with the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favourably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.