Transformed by Christ

| Father Michael Joncas | September 11, 2019 | 0 Comments

Editor’s Note: Please read this column with the Gospel read Aug. 25, Luke 13:22-30, in mind

Caterpillar with butterfly shadow


This Sunday’s Scriptures are not easy to hear for those of us who live observing God’s commandments and the precepts of the Church. Our behavior leads us to think of ourselves as “insiders,” those who belong to the community of Jesus’ followers with all the privileges that entails. And yet the selection from Luke’s Gospel that we hear today warns us that we may discover ourselves “outsiders” when the Reign of God that Jesus proclaimed is brought to completion.

In the group-oriented cultural world of Jesus’ day, people pledged their greatest allegiance to their (extended) family. Members of that family were considered one’s primary set of “insiders.” Everyone else was an “outsider” to this primary group. At a higher level, all of the families of covenant people of God (tribes) were “insiders,” while those not part of this set of family and clan relationships were “outsiders” (Gentiles).

While the normal way to be an “insider” was to be born into a family, clan or tribe, there were at least two ways in which an “outsider” could become an “insider.” Sharing a common substance with a natural-born member of a family, clan or tribe (e.g., suckling the milk of a common wet-nurse, or becoming “blood brothers” by mingling another bodily fluid) established an “outsider” as an “insider” in society’s eyes, with all its duties and privileges. Consider how it was possible for a Gentile to become a Jew through lengthy instruction, a pledge to keep the prescriptions of Torah, and (if a male) by circumcision.

A second way in which an “outsider” could become an “insider” was by sharing a common meal, what anthropologists call “commensality” or table fellowship. Sharing food and drink, even when the ritual aspects of this act were not made explicit, sealed friendships and integrated “outsiders” into a community.

It is in this context, then, that we can understand Jesus’ hearers’ reactions to the story he tells. Jesus acts as the master of the house and bars putative “insiders” from fellowship with him. They respond by claiming that they are part of his community by having eaten and drunk with him. Jesus’ answer to this claim has already been given earlier in this chapter (Luke 13: 2, 5): “Unless you repent, you will all perish.” It’s not enough to share a meal with Jesus, one must also exhibit a radical change in life to establish kinship with him. Those seeking admittance remind Jesus that “you taught in our streets.” And Jesus’ devastating rejoinder is: “Yes, I taught, but all you did was listen, and you never put what you heard into practice.”

It is interesting that in most of the contemporary Roman Rite eucharistic prayers the priest in our name twice petitions God the Father to send the Holy Spirit: first, that the bread and wine we offer is transformed by the power of the Spirit into the Body and Blood of Christ and second, that we who share table fellowship with Jesus and one another may also be transformed in our thoughts and our behavior by the same Spirit. May we be privileged to “recline at table in the kingdom of God” and live transformed by the Spirit of Christ.

Father Joncas, a composer, is an artist in residence at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

Sunday, September 15
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures