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All Things Being Equal… The Laity Are

Friday October 28, 2022, xxth Week of Ordinary Time, Year CII

by Fr. David M. Knight

View readings for today:

The apostle Jude did not write the Letter of Jude. The other Jude did, a relative of Jesus and brother to the author of the Letter of James, who, according to the Scripture scholars, was not the “James, son of Alphaeus” listed in the Gospel reading as one of the Twelve. But he was the leader of the Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem and recognized by Paul as one of the “pillars” of the Church.[1]

We make these switches from Jude the apostle to Jude the author, then to the author James who was not an apostle but was leader of the Jerusalem church, because of what it tells us about the Twelve, about apostles in general, and about ourselves as stewards of Christ’s kingship.

It was natural to assume, before today’s advanced Scripture scholarship, that James the “pillar” of the Church must have been one of the Twelve specially chosen in Luke 6:12-16 who are described as the “twelve foundations” of the Church.[2] This assumption was fed by and in turn fed the prevailing attitude of “clericalism” which for generations before the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) saw the Church as a pyramid in which authority and leadership were synonymous. Both descended by clearly-defined degrees from pope through bishops and priests to prod and point the way to a passive and obedient laity. There was no place in this structure for someone like James, not one of the Twelve, to be a “pillar” of the Church ranked with Peter and John. The “stewards of the Kingdom” were those in Holy Orders, and in the mentality of clericalism Holy Orders take precedence over holiness.

The reading from Ephesians 2:19-22 takes on new meaning if we read it as if it were addressed to a disenfranchised laity:

You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints [clergy] and [equal] members of the household of God.

We have indeed been “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” But we must not forget that “in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” We are all “built together spiritually” and equally charged, as “good stewards of the manifold grace of God, to serve one another with whatever gift each of us has received,” and to use our gifts to “build up the Church” with responsibility, leadership and love.[3] Then it will be said of us all, “Their message goes out through all the earth.”

Initiative: Don’t ask what your position or “rank” is in the Church. Ask what your gifts are and use them with responsibility as a steward of Christ’s kingship.

[1] Matthew 13:55; Galatians 2:9. This separation of the author. “James the Less” from the apostle, “James, son of Alphaeus,” is agreed on by J. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible, X. Leon-Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament, and L.T. Johnson, The Catholic Study Bible. Butler’s Lives of the Saints disagrees, saying it is [that is, was] “most commonly held” that the author, apostle, “brother of Jesus” and Jerusalem “pillar” were one and the same. [2] Revelation 21:14. [3] See 1Pete 4:10; 1Corinthians 14:26; 2Corinthians 13:10; Ephesians 4:12; 1Thessalonians 5:11.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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