“The Freedom of a Priestly People: Unity & Diversity in the same breath”

Mary Magdala Community

“The Freedom of a Priestly People: Unity & Diversity in the same breath”(c)

  11th Sunday in Ordinary Time —  June 16, 2024

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div., Ph.D.  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Pastor,  Mary Magdala Community,  maryofmagdala-mke.org

We can be thankful, I think, that when Jesus gave a vision of how he saw the impact of his Message and what he foresaw happening as a result of the disciples’ preaching of that Message, he did not give us an organizational chart.  No, he gave us parables about what happens to seed scattered and sown, and the life of a single mustard seed.  We can also be thankful, I think, that his explanations to the disciples were not about creating an institution that would serve as the end-all, be-all interpreter of his Word.

These parables are an integral part of the preaching that his disciples would rely upon once the Message of love and service was handed on to them; disciples who formed themselves into a community that would grow on the basis of their diverse backgrounds, skills, and talents.  Remember when Jesus sent them to preach while he was still with them?  In Mark’s gospel (9:38-40) John returned to let Jesus know that he stopped others from preaching about Jesus because “they were not of our company?” Jesus’ response was a lesson in the value of diversity.  He said, “Those who are not against us are for us.”  Of course, this statement became changed even during the time of the writing of the gospels themselves.

Let’s recall that Mark’s gospel was most likely written in the decade of the 60s, CE, before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  In this socio-political context Jesus’ response to the disciples may be rightly considered positive and inclusive.  And since this is the written response closest to when Jesus first spoke it, we may rightly see this as his clear view on how his Message ought to be preached and applied.

When the gospel of Matthew was written the fall of the temple had already – and freshly – occurred.  As written in Matthew, Jesus’ sentiment was expressed differently than it was in Mark. In Matthew 12:30, in response to a situation of confrontation the gospel writer quotes Jesus as saying, “He who is not with me is against me.”  This 180 degree difference in Jesus’ attitude, I submit, has more to do with a changed socio/political context, and perhaps reflects more the gospel writer’s attitude, than it does with what we earlier read in Mark.

We in the United States can relate to the fear that became embedded in Jesus’ followers in the aftermath of the Roman army’s tearing down the temple.  Just remember how we felt when the twin towers came down on Sep. 11.  My point is, we can be certain that Jesus’ original message was one of unity and diversity.  The mustard tree grows large with such a nourishing strategy of rootedness in the gospel of Love.  It’s this view of unity and diversity that I would like to focus on in our sharing.

Anthony Godzieba* is on the theology faculty of Villanova University in Pennsylvania.  He has written on this connection between unity and diversity; one does not exist without the other.  And one does not exist in an authoritarian stance that determines the other.  This would only be a return to former ways, which so many of us grew up on, when diversity was seen through the lens of uniformity.

Godzieba points out that in the first 50-60 years of Jesus’ disciples forming community there was no central organizing principle at work which allowed the mustard tree of the Beloved Community to flourish and to sink down roots.  Unity, then, was based in Jesus’ prayer for union to exist among the disciples as it does between himself and the divine parent whom he called upon as his father.  Diversity settled upon the disciples in the ways which the gifts of the Spirit became embodied personally within them.  These gifts encouraged each one to preach the Word and to affirm the ways of justice revealed through the Word.  Unity and diversity, according to Godzieba, are two interrelating and equally necessary conditions of our Christian life.

To conclude, let’s take a look at how we may look at our diversity as the gift to freely become the body of Christ forever, united in the Creative Source of all life.  In particular, I’m considering the search for a new Co-Pastor that our community is currently conducting.  In the discussions (communal and interpersonal) leading up to the invitation to candidates to apply a few questions considering qualifications and expectations have surfaced and have been clarified.  We will continue our discussions for further clarity in this process.  I would like to raise the specific area of ordination.  Were we to have had this search, say, 5 years ago, I would venture the guess that an ordained person would have been top of the list.

Now, in 2024, the position description and the advertisement we have does not include ordination as a necessary requirement for the person whom we seek.  I believe this is because, as a community, we have arrived at the scriptural ground that teaches, “You…are…a royal priesthood.”  (1 Peter 2:9)  Yes, we are all priests – each one given diverse gifts to pray, to lead, to preach, to teach, to sing, to dance.  In our circle of worship when we remember the gift of Christ’s life among us – we all speak words of blessing, being all priestly ministers of sacramental food and drink.  This is our unity in diversity.

The truth of our search, then, is an emergent one, a focus and an assurance that celebrates who we are and who we ask to serve.  These things serve for me as clarifying realities that ground this search for Co-Pastor.  First, is being a community that trusts ourselves.  Second, is being a community that believes in the faithfulness of its members.  Third, is being a community whose convictions include applying the justice and peace message of Jesus.

We are disciples, convinced of the original message of Jesus, original as he spoke it; a message that embraces both unity and diversity.  How else does the mustard tree “become the largest of shrubs, with branches big enough for the birds of the sky to build nests in its shade?” (Mark 4:32)

  • Anthony J. Godzieba, “ … And Followed Him on the Way” (Mark 10:52); Unity, Diversity, Discipleship, pp.228-254.  Beyond Dogmatism and Innocence: Hermeneutics, Critique, and Catholic Theology, Anthony J. Godzieba & Bradford E. Hinze, eds. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville – 2017)

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