More and more I am impressed with how Jewish was Jesus, how Jewish was the thinking of the early assembly of disciples: Wrestling with their memories of the living Jesus and their experiences of the Risen Christ – in the Light of Jewish Scripture – exactly as taught on the Road to Emmaus.
Notice I used the word “assembly” above. For that is how the early “church” termed itself. And maybe we should consider returning to that word. For the word “church” – thanks in large part to repressive and yes, sadistic, misuse of authority – seems to be alienating all too many persons longing for spiritual nourishment and spiritual companionship – which is exactly what Jesus provided to the disciples he walked with and dined with “on the road” that Resurrection afternoon.
Notice, as well, that Jesus did not announce himself on that road. He did not sit in judgment on those fleeing Jerusalem, for that does seem to be what they were doing. Instead, he humbly joined a couple of worried men, completely at sea, due to traumatizing events they could not “assemble” into a coherent story (in order to go on with their lives). Jesus simply walked along – like any person. A stranger on a journey. But a stranger willing to assemble for them events they were unable to comprehend on their own. In doing so, he taught them a method for how to read signs of the times in the light of scripture. He didn’t impose himself. Or threaten anyone. Indeed he seemed ready to walk on. Their response? They begged him: “Stay with us” (join us for dinner). They were ready to feed the stranger. (Remind you of anything?)
And then he vanished. As soon as they recognized him in the Breaking of Bread. For by then his Word was already ALIVE in their burning hearts.
Then something amazing happened!
Once they had the story line, the disciples raced right back to Jerusalem! And the story line, as Paul would later put it, was Active! For as they described to the assembled disciples the story line now burning in their hearts, Jesus himself appeared among them.
Assembling in His Name… Recalling Jesus, his words and actions, interpreted in the light of Jewish scripture: This is the key Jesus taught. And the disciples passed along.
The Key to the Kingdom is not in Rome. The key, like the pearl of great price, is not a possession. It is a state of mind, especially a state of heart, and a humble sharing of that. Trying to possess the key, to wield it as a cudgel, to withhold it, I begin to see, diminishes the one who claims to own it, wield it or withhold it. (For thus does the sword of truth become a weapon over the weak, instead of a keen, incisive blade which cracks open the scriptures, freeing the pearl to do its work.)
And this, I think, points to the crisis the Vatican has created for itself. Splitting itself off, it would seem, from the Living and Active Word, clinging to something dead, a reverse of the prophetic call to “Mercy, not sacrifice” – they literally now call for Sacrifice, not mercy.
The Good News! Jesus, even today, is capable of meeting sisters (or any of us) on the road. Indeed, he is certainly capable of appearing as a sister. Or an assembly of sisters.
The question the RCC crisis poses today, in my view is: What is the Church? And from whence comes its authority? I think the answer to the first is “Where two or three are gathered in My Name” and the answer to the second relies on discernment – not appointment by cudgel-wielding bureaucrats intent on parading in fancy finery.
There is a way, I think, to discern (Spirit-filled) leaders around whom an Assembly of the like-minded (spontaneously) arises. In the tradition I’m thinking of, such spiritual Elders may not even be ordained and there is no assumption that such persons must be men. Here is a description of one such Elder by Archimandrite Alexander Golitzin, someone I know and trust, in an essay titled, The Place of the Presence of God:
“[The Elder] lives as a normal man, just as any other
living man, but he is as well the one whom God has
taken and set apart, and who in consequence no longer
lives quite the life of the present world. While indeed
he walks the earth, he senses in some sense that his
head is in the sky; that he sees heaven; that he sees God…
[He is] the spiritual father who makes God tangible,
powerful, living, intense, and true.”
Of course the word “man” above (spoken in Greek by an elderly monk) means all mankind, better yet, humankind.
The article this quote comes from is long, detailed, and requires time and attention. But I commend it for several reasons, not only because the Elder described radiates the Presence of God, thereby communicating that potential to others, but because this “ecclesial process” carries Tradition and is traceable back to the earliest Christian Assemblies (Ecclesia). Additionally, the essay demonstrates how the authentic Spirit-filled Tradition was already arising independently in at least two geographically separated and linguistically different Christian Assemblies and that the Tradition was being shaped (arising) in close contact with the Jewish understanding of the scriptures – in a way that closely parallels the interpretive key Jesus provided on the Road to Emmaus.