"There are many places in the Scriptures that give us a glimpse into the heart of God and the love that God has for us, a love rooted in God’s intimate knowledge of who we are. ”I have called you by name; you are mine” quotes the writer of second Isaiah in the time of the Babylonian captivity. (Isaiah 43;1) and David’s beautiful Psalm 139-” YHWH, you’ve searched me and you know me…You created my inmost being and stitched me together in my mother’s womb…”(Verses 1, 13 ). In John 10:14 Jesus assures us: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me”. It feels good to be known. Some of us long to be more fully known by those we love. In a popular song of a few years back the singer almost cries: “If you don’t know me by now, you will never ever know me at all”. And for some of us, it feels good to be known and still loved, for we fear that if others truly knew us they would not love us. Yet we are assured that God both knows us and loves us. In the same way in these texts God is expressing abiding love for Israel and those chosen to be God’s people.
However,In Sunday’s texts, particularly Isaiah 66:18-21 and Luke 13: 22-30 the words of the the writer of third Isaiah and the words of Jesus are not so reassuring. Both texts establish that God has thrown open the doors of exclusivity and invited people from all over the world to serve God and God’s people, not only those originally chosen. While this maybe cause for our rejoicing as we too are included in the kindom of God, those who thought the kindom was their exclusive club probably experienced a sense of outrage and loss.
Now Jesus also taught us in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16) that God has been generous with us and we are not diminished by God’s generosity to others. Yet, even in this parable he says that those who think they have it all sewn up , who have “done their labor”, done the “right thing” yet are critical of the way God gives to others may not have it right, including the religious who do not understand God’s loving inclusivity. They will need to learn that the “last shall be first” in God’s kindom. Strangers will come in and sit near the head of the table. And, imagine, Isaiah is saying to God’s originally chosen, that people from other nations and stations in life will even become priests and Levites ( that is priests in lines of priests). Imagine their anger and confusion and dismay. Is it not akin to the response of the Catholic hierarchy in discovering in their midst the presence of validly ordained women priests? They have responded like the workers in the parable, with anger- we have served you “the right way” and now You are not fair, how can You include them? And going further, “The church cannot ordain women” (And by extension God cannot call women!) “You women cannot be one of us anymore-out you go, you are “excommunicated” sent out from us-you will not be served at the Table.” And is this not akin to saying that the Table of Jesus is exclusive, only those belonging to the club and paying the dues exacted may come to the Table?
One of our Deacons recently told me the story of attending a dear friend’s funeral in a local parish. The priest who gave the homily did not know this wonderful woman and she could not recognize her friend in the homily. But, worse, when the time for the Eucharist came, the priest announced: only Roman Catholics who attend church faithfully on Sundays and have recently received the sacrament of Reconciliation may come to the Table. Most of the bereaved sat in the pews.
A few years back on a certain Sunday all members of a parish would wear rainbow ties or colors as they went forward to recieve holy communion to show solidarity with their gay brothers and sisters who were forbidden to come to the Table. A few weeks ago, it the Diocese of Venice in Southwest Florida under Bishop Frank Dewane, a group of Parents of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG Parents) were asked to not to meet in their parish church,Blessed Pope John the 23rd in Fort Myers. How ironic when we think of John the 23rd! Housing this important group of Catholic parents was a wonderful pastoral undertaking of this parish. The ejection of this group is a prime example of the Bishop enforcing that the Church club is exclusive and some people cannot belong.
Pope Francis has offered some hope to the church and to the world recently as he modeled simplicity and reaching out to the poorest and the outcast among us. While not making a doctrinal statement he also offered hope when he said of gays in the clergy and in the pews: “Who am I to judge?” Yet in the same breath he responded to a question about women in the church by saying that the church cannot ordain women. Well, Jesus did not ordain anyone but he made Mary of Magdala an Apostle to the Apostles by appearing to her and to the other women first and sending her to “go and tell” the good news that Christ Lives! Dear Brother Francis, thank you for a slim hope for the LGBT Community but in redeeming the outcasts, do not forget your sister priests.
So, what appears to be two very difficult texts to hear, where strangers are invited to the table and to the priesthood and, where Jesus says to those who plead that they sat at his table and heard him preaching in the streets (his church) ”I do not know you or where you come from; get away from me, you evildoers!” are not very difficult at all. Jesus is challenging us to know him and to know our loving God. Jesus is saying that he does not know those of us who do not love as he loves, who want to belong to an exclusive club instead of welcoming and including people from all corners of the face of the earth to “take their places at the feast in the kindom of God” (Luke 13:29). Those who may come into the presence of Christ but do not love and who exclude those whom God has invited in will learn that “some who are first will be last”. There is still hope in this, the last in line may still be in the kindom, but they will not be given places of honor. And this is because knowing God means not knowing about God with our minds, or our doctrines or dogma, but knowing God in loving relationship and therefore loving our neighbors, all of them, as ourselves. And we want all of our loved ones at the Table with us.
When we know God we know love, for “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,and God in them…We love because God first loved us.”(I John 4: 16,19). When we know God we know love, we love God and all people-we live love. When we know Christ we know the Way of love. We know love that embraces all- the mentally ill, the poorest, the second class citizens, those of different sexual orientations, the lepers of our times, those who are not of our religion or country,even enemies of our country and those who are just plain difficult, ugly and not at all like us. We do not have lists of those we exclude and we do not say hollow things like “love the sinner and hate the sin”. Jesus asked us not to judge the sins of others, or those who sin differently than we do. Christ Jesus is building the kindom with everyone from everywhere!
In love relationships that continue to grow and sustain knowing one another is essential. A love song of decades gone by says “To know, know, know, him is to love ,love, love him, and I do…” Let us therefore know Christ and love him, living all inclusive love as he showed us. Then we will hear the words we long to hear, “I know you” because you are living in my love-and loving everyone!"
Rev. Dr. Judith A. Lee,ARCWP
Co-Pastor of the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community in Fort Myers, Florida
(“I know my sheep and my sheep know me”John 10:14-what wonderful reciprocity!
This is an embroidered symbolic picture on a priest’s stole (one of four or six symbols depending on the length) created by the Women’s Cooperative-Tejiendo Sororidades in Cali, Colombia