Luke 9: Apostleship, Authority, Eucharist and the USCCB

Hey, remember that thing I used to do where I would read through a book of the Bible and pull out points that I hadn’t noticed before? I’m back, baby.

As near as I can tell, I left off at Luke 8, so here’s something interesting in Luke 9 that turns out to be eerily relevant to the news of the day. At least, the geeky Catholic news of the day.

For non-geeky Catholic types, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is meeting this week, and the buzz has all been about a proposal to draft a document on the Eucharist, ostensibly in response to a Pew study last year that showed that most Catholics don’t actually believe that the bread and wine are really the Body and Blood of Christ. If you listen to the media or, for that matter, if you listen to the bishops themselves, though, the main focus of this document is to deal with the “scandal” that the current US President is a very publicly professed Catholic who supports policies that are pro-abortion, and some bishops want to make clear that he should not be allowed to participate in the Eucharist because supporting abortion is a mortal sin.

So, here’s what I saw in Luke 9. Jesus sends out the twelve disciples, who are the forerunners of the bishops. There is an interlude about Herod, the ruler of the day. And there is a miracle that pretty clearly foreshadows the institution of the Eucharist.

In 9:1-6, here’s what Jesus tells the disciples to go do:

  • Preach the Kingdom of God
  • Heal the sick
  • Don’t take anything with them, so they are dependent on God and the people they preach to
  • Accept the generosity of the people without trying to upgrade your accommodations
  • Go where you are welcomed, and let go of where you are not welcomed

And that is what they went off and did. They preached the Good News and healed people everywhere.

This got noticed by the political powers, but not in a good way. Herod was confused, because people closer to the action told him that Jesus might be John the Baptist, and Herod had beheaded John the Baptist. Eventually, Herod would turn on Jesus, but at this point in the story, he was just confused and curious.

Then in 9:10-17, we have the feeding of the 5,000. I won’t go deep into this, except to notice that when the disciples brought the five loaves and two fishes, Jesus “looked up to heaven, thanked God for them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.” For those who haven’t been to a communion service in a while, that’s what Eucharist sounds like.

So here’s what I notice in this passage, as it relates to the USCCB. The disciples didn’t sort out who among the 5,000 was in the clear with Jesus; they just fed them. They didn’t obsess over what political powers thought of them; they just preached good news and healed people. And they didn’t spend five hours on a Zoom call debating a motion about whether to draft a document; they preached good news and healed people. Draw your own conclusions.

I was leafing through my library to see what spoke to me tonight, and I came across a compilation of addresses by Pope Francis titled The Church of Mercy. The message of Christianity, the heart of it all, is that God’s Love is stronger than our sin. We are broken and messed up, and that is not enough to turn God away from us. We are drowning in rapids of failure we created, but God is with us, keeping our heads above water, because against all evidence, He believes that we are worthy enough.

That’s good news that the Church can and should deliver, not from a safe shoreline, but from within the rapids themselves. The people at the front of the Church are just as broken, just as desperate for mercy, as the people who slunk in the back. Not just the individuals; the Church itself was built on brokenness, and only has any holiness in it because of God’s absurd persistence. Our institutions rest on foundations cracked by racism, sexual abuse, greed and pride. That anything stands at all, 2,000 years in, is a sure sign of God’s mercy.

If the bishops are worried about people not taking God seriously enough in the Eucharist, that’s the good news to embrace and push out, instead of pretending to have the charge to kick people out of the crowd of those starving for God’s grace for not being doctrinally aligned. Preach that good news, let it heal the sick of heart, and confuse those who seek temporal power by not caring what the in-crowd thinks.

It’s that, or 5-hour Zoom calls. You pick.

One response to “Luke 9: Apostleship, Authority, Eucharist and the USCCB”

  1. […] last time I talked about the first part of this section: Jesus sends the 12 with specific instructions to […]

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