Some people enjoy both collecting and disseminating statistics, and those whose working life is focussed on understanding and explaining scripture are no exception.
Take the topic ‘judgment’ as an example. One of the themes in today’s readings concerns judgment which is a theme in every layer of gospel tradition; Gerhard Lohfink in his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ quotes the author Marius Reiser who in his book on Jesus’ preaching, took the trouble to calculate the percentage of [conversational] material on the theme of ‘Judgment’ within the Synoptic Gospels, namely those of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The result is astonishing: sayings and parables about judgment comprise seventy-six verses in the Sayings Source (=35 percent of the conversational material), 37 verses in Mark’s gospel (= 22 percent of the conversational material), sixty verses in Matthews special material (= 64 percent of the conversational material), and thirty-seven verses in Luke’s special material (= 28 percent of the recorded/recollected conversations Jesus had on the topic of judgment).
However one may wish to assess the accuracy of these statistics, it doesn’t change the fact that the theme of Judgment comprises at least a quarter of the conversational material preached by Jesus. The unavoidable conclusion from those statistics is that Jesus must have spoken about judgment often.
We know that Jesus had his supporters: we know that Jesus had his detractors, determined opponents who were theologians, and they slandered him at every opportunity, added to which he was not totally acceptance among ordinary people either. No wonder Jesus made the comment ‘A prophet is only despised in his own country among his own relations and in his own house.’
In today’s first reading, an exasperated God sent Ezekiel into the fray against his people who – and I quote - ‘have been in revolt against me’, and he added, ‘this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them!’ In other words they will hear the truth whether they like it or not! In the gospel, we read about the resentment of those in the synagogue who railed against Jesus. What a nerve this man Jesus had to preach to the faithful, after all he was only a carpenter and hadn’t been trained in the Judaic Law, and in their eyes and in that context was uneducated! <gasp> What an audacity! ….. One can hear them muttering … ‘my goodness what is the world coming to?’ … ‘Who does he think he is!’. Instinctively Jesus’ detractors are judging him because he is not sufficiently qualified in their eyes to explain the scriptures to them, added to which his social pedigree lacked quality and status.
Against this background, Jesus continued his ministry of healing and proclaiming the kingdom of God. Jesus experienced what many families experience between themselves; disagreement, contradiction and constant judgment!
A quick look at the family of the Universal Church is a good starting point to check for judgment within the Body of Christ. When Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34), he was talking about the sword as a sign of division. During his ministry, some people would accept him, others would reject him and therefore the seeds of dissention and judgment would be sown within the Kingdom of God; so it has continued up to the present day and will continue. Those of you who follow the ebb and flow of current spiritual discussion will be aware of the background to current protests in both the German Church and the American Church. Pope Francis is not oblivious to the problems, and that is one reason why he is urging the Church to become a ‘synodal’ Church, a church where current problems are openly discussed, opinions openly and honestly stated and not allowed to ferment in an underground church surrounded by secrecy, contradiction and suspicion.
Of course in our families there are divisions: between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter; the sword of division as in Matt 10:34, or in Luke, 12: 49-53. ‘I will bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were blazing already.’
Personally I have no cause to point the finger at anyone. In my family there have been divisions. I haven’t spoken to my eldest Son for 15 years! What matters is that the lines of communication are left open even if the traffic is one-way. The only way I know to reconciliation is through ‘an open-door, an open mind and constant prayer.’ One mustn’t side-line God from any problem! On the contrary, one should discuss grievances with dignity and with God as our judge.
As Jesus says, [rather than ask the court to decide the right and wrong of a case], come to terms quickly with your accuser, as in our litigious society it may save you a lot of money. Jesus didn’t say that, but I’m sure that was his drift! Irrespective of whether Jesus meant it or not, it is true!
Blessed are the peacemakers.