31st Sunday of the Year (A) 2017

One of the hardest things for any human organisation is to avoid a power structure.
Even among the Apostles we see it creeping in.
‘Then James and John, … came to Jesus and said to him. Teacher, we want you to … grant that in your kingdom we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.’
This was problematic among the Apostles and is so to this day in our church.
It is problematic in all churches and all religions. Even those christian churches who abolished bishops and priests have replaced them with different power structures.
Like the exhortation to love God and our neighbour (which we explored last weekend), today’s exhortation to avoid power structures among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth has been sidestepped with exceeding nimbleness.
In fact religions are structured like armies (uniforms and all) with the emphasis on obedience to the next layer of the structure.
In our church this situation is found not only among the clergy but also among the so called laity.
If I ring up a parish asking to speak to Pat Murphy I will get the frigid response from the parish secretary, ‘hold on and I will put ‘the Very Rev. Canon Patrick Murphy’ on the phone.
One finds oneself forced into this power structure. Today’s Gospel reading is not saying that it is wrong to call one’s Rabbi; Rabbi, or one’s father; father, or one’s mother; mother, or one’s teacher; teacher, or one’s priest; father; or one’s bishop; bishop. What is wrong is the attachment of power or superiority to the title. This leads to pride, an overbearing attitude to others and a subservient attitude in others.
Jesus of Nazareth was at pains to teach his followers by example and by words;
‘For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at table? Yet I am among you as the one who serves.’
‘So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them. Do you realise what I have done for you? You call me teacher and master, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.’
‘Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’
“You know that those who are recognised as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.’
Isaiah, prophesying in the Old Testament about the Messianic era to come said; “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers.”
Jesus of Nazareth wanted his followers (his church) to be something completely new. Something free from the curse of power structure. This will not come from the top. It must begin and be implemented at parish level. Only we can do it.
Not only do we ‘so called’ clergy need to change our superior attitude in a power structured church but also you, ‘so called’ laity, need to change your subservient attitude towards the clergy.
Pope Francis has told Vatican officials and the bishops of the world to cease and desist from naming members of the clergy to be canons and monseigneurs.
We will see if this instruction is followed.