Friday, September 28, 2018

The Fabric of Community Life

Dear Friends,

In the moral language of the centuries, “virtues and vices” are umbrella names for a whole set of characteristics – habits – which people unleash in their interactions with others. There’s not one set for the people of antiquity and another set for us and our contemporaries. The same virtues and vices keep reinventing themselves, perhaps with a slightly different look or feel. People who manifest these attitudes either help or hinder the life and growth of the community.

Two vices appear in today’s scripture readings, while Moses and Jesus call their followers to be otherwise. They are jealousy and apathy.

Joshua, in the first reading, wants to keep the community tidy and clearly ordered. He is worried about anyone who shows initiative independent of Moses, especially these two men, Eldad and Medad. In the Gospel, John, the beloved disciple, doesn’t like it at all when he sees a complete stranger expelling demons in Jesus’ name.

The first of these vices or attitudes is jealousy. When someone invades our turf, does something that we think is our exclusive responsibility, we resent them. Like Joshua in the first reading and John in the Gospel, we try to stop them dead in their tracks. Let them know that we have the inside track. We are the ones authorized to take this action. Jealousy is the sin of those who say: “You can’t do that! Your help, your talent, your skill and expertise are not needed. Keep out!”

A second, more pervasive, more harmful attitude which these readings remind us of is apathy or passivity – the sin of those who say, “I can’t do that. I have nothing to contribute – no talent, no skill, no experience. I’m no help. I’ll just mind my own business. Besides, I don’t want to.”

These two ways of thinking and being are not only intolerant, self-centered and controlling, they are also destructive of ourselves and the faith community. Jealousy and apathy eat at the fabric of community life. When we leave the work to others (because they are insiders – they always do it), we deprive the community of our talents, our humor, our zeal for God. When we insist on doing it all ourselves (because we know how things work, we’ve got the history and know the people), we deny both the community and ourselves the gifts of others. Would that there were more Eldads and Medads in the church and in the world to say something, do something, get involved!

Moses cries out: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that He would bestow his spirit on them all!” And later in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul would say unequivocally: “To each one of you, the manifestation of the Spirit if given for the common good.”

We all have something the community needs. Our task, as Christians, is to make real, to demonstrate that Moses’ prayer has come true: The Lord has indeed bestowed His spirit on us all.

~Sister Joan Sobala