By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle
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Dealing Gently with Sinners

Jeremiah 31:7-9 Hebrews 5:1-6 Mark 10:46-52

There is a story of a kid who won four goldfish at the annual school carnival. The following day, his dad went out shopping for an aquarium. The prices ranged from $70 to $100. Finally he spotted a discarded tank, complete with gravel and filter, for only $10. He bought it at once, took it home and spent hours washing and cleaning it up until it looked like new. By evening, the four little fish were swimming in their new home. The following day, they found that one of the fish was dead. Too bad, but three remained. A day later, a second one was dead. By nightfall the third died. The man called in an expert. It didn't take long to discover the problem: He had washed the tank with soap, something one must never do. In spite of his good intentions, his unenlightened efforts had destroyed the very lives he sought to protect.

Sometimes, we Christians, are like this man. In our zeal to clean up the lives of others, we use "killer soaps" -- criticism and condemnation, anger and exclusion. We think we are teaching them a lesson, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment demoralises rather than encourages the weak brother or sister. In today's second reading from Hebrews, we are reminded that, as sharers in the universal priesthood of believers, we should minister God to one another, and that we should do so in gentleness, as Jesus did.

The teaching of the New Testament, and particularly the Letter to the Hebrews, on priesthood is quite intricate. Traditional theology has formulated it in one paradoxical saying, "All are priests, some are priests, only one is a priest." Together with the doctrine that Christ is the sole and unique priest of the new covenant (Hebrews 5:5-6), there is also the belief that some of the faithful are chosen to be priests ministering to the people of God (Hebrews 5:1-4), and indeed that all believers share in the priestly ministry. The doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers is spelt out in the well-known passage from the First Letter of Peter.

But you are a chosen race, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a people to be a personal possession to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Many people do not understand what it means that we are all priests or how to go about fulfilling their role in the common priesthood of all believers. That we are priests means that we are called to lead people to God and to bring God to people. A priest is someone chosen to represent other human beings in their dealings with God (Hebrews 5:1). A priest is a go-between, an intermediary, between God and human beings. Ministerial priests fulfil this role by offering sacrifices for sins. That is clear. But how do believers in general fulfil their roles as sharers in the common priesthood of all the faithful? It is by interceding for people before God's throne of mercy and by ministering God to people.

One person who lived the common priesthood of all believers to the full is St Francis of Assisi. The Peace Prayer attributed to him shows us what it means for every believer to be a priest.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love; / when there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek / to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand, / to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive, / it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

How do we go about living out this priestly lifestyle. Hebrews tells us one essential disposition of character that we must possess. It is gentleness. A priest "is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:2). Recent events in the church in many parts of the world have left us in no doubt that priests are subject to weakness. This disgrace can be turned into grace if we learn from this to deal more gently with the ignorant and wayward. As priests, we should be holding up to sinners an invitation to God's mercy and not a threat of God's impending judgment.

Today, there are many believers who are on a crusade to cleanse the church. They are bent on removing the weeds from the wheat. When we do that, we are playing God (Matthew 13:30). Our work as priests of God is essentially to reconcile people with God and the best and most effective way we can do that is not by being harsh but by being gentle to sinners. Le this be our prayer today, "Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto thine."

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