XVI Sunday of Ordinary Time
Thoughts for your consideration: by Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, CP
A current liturgical hymn that is fairly popular in church settings is GATHER US IN. It is especially appropriate at the commencement of the eucharist, since people have just arrived and taken their places in their pews or chairs. The significance of the terms lies in the etymology of the word “gathering”, when appreciated in terms of other languages, such as Greek or Hebrew, where derivative terms such as “church” or “synagogue” are constructed around it.
For church is a gathering place that synchronizes quite well with the above-mentioned hymn. This phenomenon is so common-place that it easily escapes observation and comment, yet “gathering” is an achievement under-girding many of the issues of concern to JPIC. If the process of gathering could be generalized or universalized, it would advance so many matters currently contributing to worldwide division and controversy, toward harmony and compatibility.
So we listen with interest to our biblical readings today, noting the prominence of the gathering topic in what we hear. For instance, in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, reminds us how God has employed exile and the scattering of the tribes of Israel and Judah among foreign nations, as a punishment corresponding closely to the self-induced separation from God that has plagued them over the centuries following the brief period of harmony the twelve tribes of Israel enjoyed during the kingship of David. But Jeremiah has good news for his listeners today: God is intervening in this sadly divisive situation, and is bringing back the scattered tribes from the nations to where they have been exiled. He is “gathering” them together as an antidote to their rebellious ways.
And St. Paul provides an additional emphasis to this development. Disturbed by the hiatus between Jew and Gentile as an obstacle to what he sees as God’ plan for all peoples, he appeals to the death of Jesus on the cross as the decisive turning point away from the fragmentation of those whom Paul would bring into peace and harmony, and he especially employs the terms “peace” and “reconciliation” to describe the ideal relationship he hopes to happen in the wake of the death of Christ on the cross. It is as if all the horrors of hatred, revenge, cruelty and meanness spent itself in Christ’s death, so that the powers of evil, their power and energy spent and broken, now lie helpless before the surge of new life available to those gathered together around the cross.
St. Mark, in his turn, employs the “gathering” process to show its irresistible power in the lives of those whom Christ has fascinated. Even as He tries to separate Himself from them for a brief respite, they rally their forces in pursuit of Him, to gather wherever He might be, as sheep gathering around their shepherd. And Christ responded to them, changing His own plans, to meet their need for attention, which He judged important.
This process of “gathering” may seem fairly innocuous in the JPIC context, in view of the glaring issues and problems hovering over us. Nonetheless, it is very much what the church is about. To bring closer together those who are scattered, not only from the church, but among themselves, is a major achievement, and this is what the church attempts. Those who performs such church ministries as ushers and greeters, insignificant as those positions may seem, are often cited as galvanizers by those benefiting from their service.
On the world scale, no nation can afford to “go it alone”, as if some sort of gathering was unimportant to it. Even as powerful a nation as the U.S. found this out in recent times, as it pursued its own chosen method of dealing with violence and terrorism across the globe.
Nonetheless, our nation owes its origin to the success it enjoyed in the 18th century, at transforming the Continental Congress of the thirteen colonies into the original thirteen states, jealously independent units that set aside their differences and formed a memorable gathering that has admirably succeeded.
A major gathering point among the nations of the world has been the United Nations. Despite incessant criticism, from its very inception, for being inherently flawed, inept and basically useless, the U.N. is still with us. It is the only mechanism available for bringing peoples together. It us true that its achievements seem modest, to say the least, but the very fact that 192 nations gather at the UN to see one another, to hear one another, to “deal with” one another, is a major step in the right direction.
Even our churches, which are supposed to be the gold standard by which gathering comes about, have had less than stellar records, over the years, in assembling people of different colors, socio-economic status and viewpoints into one same worship space. We can hardly expect the UN to surpass houses of worship in effecting harmony and collaboration.
More to the point, the crowds that St. Mark describes today as fervent followers of Jesus were nowhere to be seen a few months later, as He climbed Calvary and underwent crucifixion on the cross. What shall we say—that He wasted time and effort earlier on, in gathering them to Himself? No, for gathering is a process coterminous with our existence here on earth. It will only conclude at the final gathering of the sheep and the goats St. Matthew describes in his 25th chapter.
Questions for Reflection in your Faith Sharing Group:
Where are the places where you gather with others?
Who are the persons that you gather with in a regular basis?
How diverse is this group of people with which you gather?