- Ryan G. Duns, SJ
In today's Gospel, we see Jesus engaged in discussion with the Pharisees. On our side, as believing Christians, there can be a temptation to feel frustrated with the obtuseness of the Pharisees. Why can't they just 'get it', after all?
I think something that is too often forgotten is that Jesus was by no means a reformer. As Father Herbert McCabe frames it, a reform seeks a mere modification of this world. When we engage in a reform, we allow the structures to remain in place while manipulating them or moving them about. When you re-arrange the furniture in your house, for instance, you are reforming it. When we shuffle poor people around in our health care system and call it progress, we do the same. Reform often masquerades as an improvement on the past; although to my mind, if the system is broken and corrupt, no amount of reform will help it. Didn't someone once remark that you can put lipstick on a pig?
On the other side, and this is where Jesus comes in, we have the revolution. McCabe describes as characteristic of the revolution a demand that we enter "a new world, not merely a modification of this world." He continues:
A revolutionary does not seek improvements within the basic structures of this society, he seeks a radical modification of these structures themselves. For this reason the world he envisages is not wholly intelligible in terms of this world. He is out not just to change society but to change the meaning of the word 'society'. Revolution is not intelligible and certainly not reasonable within the thought forms and language of this current world; revolution requires faith.What Jesus brings in today's reading, an identification of himself with the great "I AM" of God, is totally unintelligible. The Pharisees have not come to faith in Jesus, have not had their imaginations broken open to rethink the way society might be newly constituted in and around Jesus. They want to fit Jesus into neatly carved niches in their lives...and Jesus resists. He brings a word of revolution, a word of God that destabilizes and threatens. So sinful humanity did what we do best: we concoct stories of intrigue and conspiracy in order to discredit him and then, when pushed to it, we execute in order to preserve the status quo.
Jesus was not a reformer, he was an anarchist. In today's society, I am horrified by the use of Jesus Christ to condone or promote the status quo. The vision of Jesus sold by the Gospel of Prosperity nonsense or even yesterday's full-page ad in the New York Times taken out by the Catholic League tends to be more anti-christ than anarchist. Jesus, in the words of Flannery O'Connor, 'threw everything off.' Amazing that we've done such a good job of creating a version of Christianity that has domesticated a religious radical!
Today, I encourage each of us to pray the revolution of God's Kingdom. If we take what Jesus says and does seriously, it will slowly begin to move our hearts in new ways, leading us invariably toward action. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if more people glommed onto Jesus' inaugurated revolution. Will you love today in a reformed way or a revolutionary way? Do you have faith enough in Jesus to help live out today his re-visioning of society, even though it will make you look foolish to the powers of this world? Do you have the courage to love recklessly, love boldly, to love anarchically?