Two weeks ago I wrote about how Ordinary Time got named. It’s the season in which we are instructed on how to work effectively together in God’s cause. In last week’s readings we’re told just what that cause is, as Jesus quoted from Isaiah about the work He has come to do. He’s setting about forming an organization to do the Father’s work – changing lives in vivid, distinctive ways: “liberty to captives…recovery of sight to the blind…to let the oppressed go free” – work He will complete in His Risen Body, the Church, through time – and through us.
These days not a few people treat church membership rather like membership in a social club. But nothing could be further from the New Testament, and Ordinary Time begins by reminding us of that. Church membership is rather more like membership on a sports team, or a dance-troupe, or even a band of freedom-fighters: It’s for a purpose outside oneself, and there’s no place for mere passive attendance. Just as athletes and dancers and warriors train, just as their movements are choreographed so that each individual can have maximum impact – that’s the New Testament image of church membership: training and organization for maximum impact.
Saint Paul makes that case very clearly today as he writes to one of the church congregations he has founded: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ…. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” The church is the Body of the Risen Christ, continuing to do God the Father’s saving work in God’s creation.
This key fact sets the church apart from every other type of organization. It doesn’t mean that we’re better, or should take over from other organizations that do good work, or that we know how to organize ourselves for our work better than other groups (believe me, I know…). We’re different because at the very root we’re not a group that assembles itself voluntarily: We are called by God to be members of the Body of the Risen Christ – each of us with a vital role to play that can never be done by someone else; that’s why God called us.
Part of the genius of our church is that it makes a place for the contributions of everyone. Even people whom the world might think of only as “burdens,” or as “receivers of care who can’t do much,” or “takers, not makers” are understood by our church to be “part of the team.” If they can only pray at home, it values that prayer as vital. If they can only suffer their infirmity, it sees value in that suffering as an imitation of Christ. The one thing our church can’t make a place for is chosen passivity – refusing to be a part of the team by refusing to do one’s part in moving toward the goal. It recognizes that a part of each of us does want to go off on our own, or to sit back and let others do the work; that’s why it offers the sacrament of confession.
Our parish has as its motto and mission, “We change lives through the Risen Christ.” That’s what God put us here for. Everything we do has to be measured against that: Does it change lives, and is it rooted in the Risen Christ? If the answer to the first part is “no,” then we’re wasting God’s gifts of time and energy. And even if our answer to the first part is “yes,” if we’re not doing it as members of the Risen Christ we might as well be the Lions Club or the Rotary – they do good work to change lives, too.
What does it mean to “change lives through the Risen Christ”? More than I can say here, but at root it means remembering each person as a child of God with an eternal destiny, and bearing the Image of God no matter what his or her external situation or appearance might be. And it means never forgetting that our own connection to Christ through the church is the source of our power to affect one another for good. That’s what makes us different from the Lions, or the Elks, or the Rotary.
So as you listen to the Scriptures of this Ordinary Time, think of them as the “marching orders” for this organization. At the end of Mass we’re sent out to do different jobs; but we’re not sent out to do “our own thing.” It always has to be “Christ’s thing, with one another.” Until next week, peace.