Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘conflict’


Acts 6Into the Maelstrom

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

St. Stephen

This reading may strike home for many of us today.  Our work is going well.  So well, in fact, that it is clear that more workers are needed.  The call goes out, workers are vetted and taken in . . . and then the grumbling begins.  Camps and sides form quickly.  The Old Guard feels the need to protect certain traditions and practices against the ideas of the Newcomers.  The newest workers push against the reactions of the old timers.  Protocols and policies change.  There is discontent.  We divide ourselves into factions or sects.  We either protect what we know or we tear down what we believe to be stale.  The story we read today teaches us how to behave when we enter the maelstrom.

Footnotes help us to understand the different factions.  “The Hellenists were not necessarily Jews from the diaspora, but were more probably Palestinian Jews who spoke only Greek.  The Hebrews were Palestinian Jews who spoke Hebrew or Aramaic and who may also have spoken Greek.  Both groups belong to the Jerusalem Christian community.  The conflict between them leads to a restructuring of the community that will better serve the community’s needs. The real purpose of the whole episode, however, is to introduce Stephen as a prominent figure in the community whose long speech and martyrdom will be recounted in ch. 7”. (Senior 193)

We notice almost immediately that jealousy brews against Stephen and commentary further helps us to understand the further implications of the conflict we hear today.  “The charges that Stephen depreciated the importance of the temple and the Mosaic law and elevated Jesus to a stature above Moses (6, 13-14) were in fact true.  Before the Sanhedrin, no defense against them was possible.  With Stephen, who thus perceived the fuller implications of the teachings of Jesus, the differences between Judaism and Christianity began to appear.  Luke’s account of Stephen’s martyrdom and its aftermath shows how the major impetus behind the Christian movement passed from Jerusalem, where the temple and law prevailed, to Antioch in Syria, where these influences were less pressing”.  (Senior 193)

Verse 10 tells us all: They could not withstand the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. 

I am thinking of an article I read just last night of a similar conflict in the National Catholic reporter.  Written by Tom Roberts and entitled, “Seismic shifts reshape US Catholicism,” it investigates the inevitability of change that happens when humans form a community.  Liberals find that the change taking place is happening too slowly.  Conservatives believe that the change they see happening must be halted.  Moderates find themselves squeezed between these two inexorable forces.  The conflict will ebb and flow with the natural social, political and fiscal movements and everyone begins to gather their own opinions in defense of a stance.  Tensions ratchet upward.  Wisdom and the Spirit – rather than clearing the air – are shoved into oblivion and the inevitable explosion takes place.  As Christians, rather than succumb to the temptation to splinter into groups we must find a way to come together.

When we read this story in Acts we have the opportunity to look at ourselves to see how we fit into God’s plan for the world today.  When we read the story in Acts we have the chance to examine how we witness to Jesus today.  When we read the story in Acts we are called to examine how we allow Wisdom and the Spirit to influence our daily interactions with others.

When we are called to speak as Stephen speaks we must also be prepared to disappear into the maelstrom that will follow.

When we hear another speak as Stephen speaks we must be prepared to be open to the voice of Wisdom and the power of the Spirit.

When we enter the place where a conflict is raging we are called to witness as Christians must . . . with grace, and mercy, and wisdom . . . and always in the Spirit of God.


A re-post from January 22, 2012.

Image from: http://frbenedict.blogspot.com/2010_12_01_archive.html 

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.193. Print.

Read Full Post »


James 4Puffs of Smoke

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Throughout his letter, James reminds us that we must be doers of the word and not sayers only.  In Chapter 4 he focuses us on the habits we have nurtured that contribute to our divisions, habits of the heart and mind that create division, habits of the soul that separate us from God.

Where do the wars and conflicts among you come from? . . . Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? 

God wishes happiness for all his creatures; God does not wish that some of us do well while others starve.  James points out that it is our own selfishness and greed that cause us to build the barriers that separate us.  Humility, he says, is the only remedy.  We must submit our will to God’s and resist the demon world that whispers in our ear to tell us that we are more special than others.

Do not speak evil of one another.  Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges a brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law.  If you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but a judge . . . Who are you to judge your neighbor?

When we gossip with one another and slander others we become incapable judges; and the only true and gifted judge is God.  James does not speak here of a judicial system that oversees criminal cases and administers appropriate consequences; rather, James speaks of a world in which humble servants acknowledge God’s power and generosity.  James knows – and once we put away our ego we will also come to know – that God’s plan for justice is far too complicated for humans to fully comprehend.  God’s plan converts sinners, it waits on the last of the sheep, it allows the weeds to grow up with the harvest, it calls the high and powerful to serve the low and powerless, it turns all harm into goodness.  This is a plan that we cannot out-maneuver.  It is a plan that we cannot ignore.  It is a plan that will be in force forever – even until the end of time.

You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow.  You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

I spoke with a friend this morning who is recovering from brain surgery – he and his family are hopeful.  I spoke to another just before Mass whose husband has lung cancer.  “Three weeks ago our lives were normal,” she said.  “Now we spend every day at the hospital.  They know our first names”.  I met a complete stranger as I came out of the store after Mass.  He noticed I was carrying milk.  I noticed that he was driving an historic car.  When I complemented him on its beautiful restoration he said, “Yeah, I spent three years of my life on this and then my wife got sick.  A few months later she was gone.  Just like that.  I don’t know what I’m gonna do”.  We smiled and spoke kind words to one another before parting ways.

We have no idea what our life will be like tomorrow.  We are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. 

James urges us to cease our bickering; he asks that we put an end to petty divisions.  He recommends that we put aside gossip and false speech; he advises that we go to God in humility.

James reminds us that we are mere wisps of vapor and that without God we are less than nothing.  He tells us that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

James tells us that all we need do is live our lives as doers of the word and not sayers only.  James asks us to cease judging and gossiping; he asks that we humble ourselves to take the last seat at the table rather than the first.  James reminds us that as tiny wisps of ash rising on the drifting wind we do not have the capacity to judge as God does.

So rather than throw our lives away on pointless living and selfish habits, let us rise like incense from the altar of our lives to be taken into the arms of a God who loves us relentlessly.  For once we humble ourselves to join others who rise in like unison, we will find that we have been gathered together in God’s loving arms . . . to become far more than mere puffs of smoke.


Images from: http://www.ursulinesjesus.org/prayer.htm 

A re-post from September 18, 2011.

Read Full Post »


Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 21, 2013

Jodaens: Saints Paul and Barnabas in Lystra

Jacob Jordaens: Saints Paul and Barnabas in Lystra

Acts 13:41-52 – Results

Contrary to what we may think, the practice of meekness does not create a world of submission and pain.  Faithful meekness trains us to handle obstacles and to persist through adversity.  True meekness teaches us to listen, to witness, and to respond as God directs.  Honest meekness turns the other cheek in an invitation to join Christ’s mystical body.  Authentic meekness steps forward into the world despite any threat to reputation, stamina or strength.

Today’s Noontime is a snippet of the story of life in the early Church. Footnotes will tell us that Antioch was an important missionary center after the focus shifted away from Jerusalem and we see how jealousy begins to simmer when Paul and Barnabas attract more followers to The Way.  The result of their meekness in Christ is conflict . . . and at first glance this may seem to be a failure.

There are three important elements in this story for us to remember.

First, we see how thirsty people are to hear The Word.  Verse 44 tells us that nearly the entire city turns out to hear Paul and Barnabas speak.  The result of Christ’s meekness is celebrity.

Second, when the missionaries are eventually forced out of the city by the jealous and powerful, Christ’s Word and Christ’s Way are easily dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, into the West and Europe.  The result of Christ’s meekness is endurance.

Third, when looking at verses 51 and 52 we find that the disciples make a statement through their witnessing rather than through an act of aggression.  The result of Christ’s meekness is quiet power.

A grain of wheat falls to the ground and bursts open so that the stalk may grow in fertile soil.  We see the grain of wheat being trod on here, and crushed into fertile ground.  Conflict and strife bear fruit through Christ and we see that the result of Christ’s meekness is not failure.  It is an abundant harvest.

And so we pray.

Good and Gracious God,

Teach us to speak of you in such a way that we call others to follow you.

Fill us with your Spirit in such a way that we find patience for the journey.

Remind us of our redemption by your Son in such a way that we remember to thank you.

Call us to our higher selves in such a way that we find power in you.

Stay with us in such a way that we delight in the practice of meekness.

Bless us in such a way that our meekness brings results for you.

We ask this in Jesus’ name. 

Amen.

Tomorrow, rejecting idols . . . the importance of meekness . . .

Read Full Post »


Tuesday, March 19, 2013  – Acts 21:17-26

Going Up to Jerusalem – Part II

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

Rembrandt: Two Old Men Disputing (Saints Peter and Paul)

In the Book of Acts we see the Jerusalem Jewish Christians struggle with the established, powerful Old Guard structure.  The upstart religious sect condemns the established organization for its corruption, its desire to control, and its refusal to hear the word of God as expressed in the person of Jesus.  Ironically, Paul comes to these same early Christians to tell them that he has spoken with the risen Christ and the young church nearly rejects Paul’s message.  They become just like the Pharisees and Sadducees before them and initially they put aside the Jesus message which Paul brings.  Providentially they realize that Paul is genuine and they agree on a solution to their conflict.  A good study Bible with reliable commentary will walk you through the twists and circles of those disagreements but today we look at this point: unity is achieved in the early church because of the conflict through which they struggle; this early conflict in which they find common ground does not weaken them but rather it strengthens their tiny movement.

How many times does this happen to us?  How many times do we do precisely what we condemn others for doing?  How many times does a revolution take place only to be followed by a punitive system set up by the rebels who fought in the name of freedom?  How many times do we miss one screaming arrow only to run into another?  And how many times do we classify conflict as a struggle to be won, rather than an opportunity to learn something about ourselves and others?

We have begun our annual ascent to Jerusalem and we have heard grumblings among the various pilgrim groups with which we journey.  We have embarked on a journey of forty days saying that we want to strip away all that distracts us from communing with God.  We have fasted, prayed, given alms, and sought answers to piercing questions . . . and we have avoided conflict whenever it presents itself.

As the story in Acts tells us today, we will encounter obstacles even on pilgrimage when we have put all of our best intentions forward and brought all of our best efforts to bear.  And rather than ignore, fear, or skirt around these barriers we need to examine them closely, seek wider commentary, ask God for wisdom, and then come to an agreement about how we might remove the hurdle from our common path.  We know that Jesus’ family traveled up to Jerusalem with other families so that they might be safe from bandits and marauders along the way.  Surely they did not all agree on where to stop for the night, which river crossing was best, or who ought to choose which turning to take at the crossroad; yet somehow they arrived.  And so must we.

We are travelling up to Jerusalem today.  Let us embrace the conflicts we encounter.  Let us listen to one another.  And let us remember that unity born of conflict can strengthen a tiny bad of sisters and brothers when we seek the common good and rely on God.

Tomorrow: A world-wide church is born out of an arrest.

For more on the conflict between Paul and Peter, click on the image above or go to: http://timgombis.com/2011/07/24/was-paul-a-doctrinal-watchdog/

To learn more about Jerusalem, visit Victor’s Place blog and read the November 13 post on exploring the city at: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/2010/11/14/exploring-jerusalem-november-13/

Today’s post is part of the December 16, 2007 Noontime reflection.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: