The topic Jesus is discussing in today’s excerpt from Matthews gospel began with a simple question from his disciples who wanted to know: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” (Mt 18:1ff). And you will recall that Jesus called a little child to him whom he set among them and said “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
What Jesus didn’t say, but intimated was the comment: “Before you consider the hierarchy in Heaven, your first priority is to make sure you get there! Don’t jump the gun!”. Then, with the child sitting among the Disciples, Jesus adds: “If you lead anyone of these little ones astray, then you yourselves deserve to be thrown away.”. He clarifies his meaning with the following thoughts: “if your hand or foot causes you to sever your association with God, cut it off! If your eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away!” He’s talking about influences which corrupt the young; he’s talking about members in a community who lead the innocent into evil. The foot, or hand or eye represents members of a community who influence the Body of Christ to its detriment. “Get rid of them .... chuck ‘em out!” says Jesus.
The Community is the Body of Christ, and to retain its Christ-like objectives it needs self discipline and brotherly/sisterly correction; and so Jesus explains how it should operate. “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, .... be diplomatic, be discreet, be sensitive. Follow a charitable process, but ultimately if he refuses to listen to the community ..... chuck him out! Treat him like a gentile or a tax collector, ... the type of person who is despised by all and sundry in society!” Then Jesus adds this: “In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” We all recognise those words as the power of authority conferred on Peter when Jesus installed Peter as the rock on which the Church was to be founded. Jesus is conferring the same power on the community! The process Jesus is promoting is designed to prevent the too frequent use of authority by a select few, which is a danger in any structured community!
The problem with authority is that it can so easily get carried away with its own self-importance, it can assume an air of superiority, of pretentious behaviour, and that was one of the problems Jesus had to cope with in his dealings with the Jewish religious authorities. Pope Francis is having to cope with the same sort of vanity in his dealings with some of the factions both in the Vatican and in the American Church.
You will be aware of pressure groups, numerically small, but who are in fact well funded; lobbyists not only in the Vatican but particularly in the United States, who are determined – according to Christopher Lamb, the Tablet’s Rome correspondent – ‘who are determined to make sure that the next man to be elected Pope follows their theological, political and social agenda.’ It would seem that their modus operandi for influencing the College of Cardinals at the next Conclave is based on the formula the United States has in electing its President. Whether one considers the American system of selection truly democratic is a moot point, but the election of a Supreme Pontiff is influenced by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t need funding of any sort from any source. If one wants to be a ‘lobbyist’, lobby the Holy Spirit with prayer!
Why are anti-Pope Francis groups so much in evidence? Perhaps it’s because Pope Francis can’t be bought off. He steadfastly pursues his desire to rid the Church of any form of corruption. He has cleaned up the so-called Vatican Bank with grateful thanks to Cardinal George Pell, who suffered ignominy in the public eye, and yet was proven to be innocent from the charges designed to destroy him. He challenges quasi religious groups who seek to influence the Church with a different agenda, which challenges Pope Francis’ idea of a church of mercy, inclusion and redemption. He steadfastly avoids confrontation with those who accuse him of all sorts of wrongdoing, as slanging matches lower the dignity of the Body of Christ. To politicise the Church, to drag it through political hustings in order to control it for selfish personal motives is heresy, because it challenges the will of God. Jesus said: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”......... I wonder who he had in mind!
Books concerning the current challenges Pope Francis is facing which may be of interest are:
Wounded Shepherd by Austen Ivereigh . Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 9781250119384.
The Outsider. [Pope Francis and his battle to reform the Church] By Christopher Lamb. Orbis Books ISBN 9781626983618