Reflection for Sunday – January 24, 2016

Readings: Nehemiah 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-30; Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21

The spirit of God is upon us! We are baptized to share in Jesus’ priestly, prophetic and royal ministry. We may never see it ourselves but we do open the eyes of many who walk blindly. We are to set captives free. The spirit anoints us to be good news to all who are in any way impoverished.

How do we realize this anointing? We recharge our baptismal batteries, praying with today’s 1st letter to the Corinthians and taking Paul’s words to heart. When Paul wrote to the people of Corinth he called them to be their best selves with the help of God. He loved the church in Corinth even though it was torn by rival factions. Some were following Apollos, who needed Priscilla and Aquila to open his eyes about Christ. Others were pledged to Peter while the poor and the slaves clung pretty much to Paul.

Another group claimed an inside track to Christ not open to ordinary folks but at the Lord’s Supper, poor people were ignored while others stuffed themselves. One man’s crime was incest. Paul is furious over the Corinthians’ behavior and jealousies. So he reminds them of the essentials of faith—The Christian community is Christ’s body. If one of us suffers we all suffer. We are all baptized into one body: Jews/Greeks, slaves/free, male/female. All are one in Christ Jesus. We are each unique so we serve in different ways. And Paul makes very clear that whatever we do is good if it serves the common good.

Paul gets those first Christians to face and deal with their wrongdoing, their tragedies, their personal horrors by reminding them of their baptism into the Body of Christ. No part of the body of Christ is insignificant; we each are needed. For all our differences, the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) immerse us and strengthen us in the risen Christ. And within that wonderful oneness which is Christ, you and I are graced in divinely different ways.
Whatever are our failures and inadequacies—we are gifted to carry Christ, to bring Jesus’ way to our world. That can be awfully hard to do. Take the Catholic perspective on capital punishment. We hear words of mercy from Pope Francis who stands in the tradition of Pope John Paul II, who asked us to use nonviolent ways to protect society and still hold convicted offenders accountable. While a gut reaction may want vengeance if our child has been killed, we have seen authentic witnesses to such grief act differently, Christ-like.

I have had at my dining room table several mothers and grandmothers of murdered children. I have heard them say, “no death penalty.” Time magazine (November, 2016) told of the families of the nine people murdered last summer in Charleston. The families spoke with grief and sorrow but they do not want the death penalty for their loved one’s murderer. Murdered Matthew Shepherd’s parents said, “We know that the death penalty would not bring back our child.” The pain does not lessen with capital punishment.

Our faith challenges us to protect not only innocent human life, but also to defend the lives of those who may have done great evil. Life sentence without parole is less expensive to us taxpayers than capital punishment. Some prisoners have been proven innocent. There’s a myth about the death penalty deterring crime. The reverse is true. In Virginia where there were 8 executions in 8 days the homicide rate climbed over 16 percent. We cannot practice what we condemn; we cannot defend life by taking life; we cannot contain violence by using state violence. “Thou shall not kill.”

Our body of Christ is suffering. When our society relies on vengeance, we are in serious trouble. Christ was a victim of the death penalty; no one will ever be as innocent as he was. Still, innocent or guilty we are each part of the body of Christ.

Jesus began his work among us saying he came to set captives free. We ask Jesus, What can this mean for us today? He strengthens us to love and serve as He shows us members of the Body of Christ freeing those held captive by poverty or addictions while others free those held captive by greed or lack of forgiveness as others bring God’s Word and mercy to prisoners. We are baptized to do as Jesus did.

Denise Mack