In salvation history, whenever a divine commission or an inspired word goes unheeded, God moves beyond the assumed and ordinary forum of exchange with his people. This is most acutely seen in the tragedy of the Babylonian Captivity.
Leading up to the captivity, God’s people would not listen to him. They defiled the Temple, dishonored the Sabbath, and mocked his exalted Name, and so – as both a discipline and a remedy – God elevated the gentile empire of the Babylonians and allowed all that was sacred to be leveled and formally profaned.
In this movement of his permissive will, God brought into the light all of the sacrileges that had been committed in the darkness, rationalized and justified by his own anointed leaders. In essence, God used the licentiousness of the gentiles, who were never taught the moral law of God, to become the means of showing his Chosen People the consequences and squalor of a life of sin and deception.
In this purgation, God raised up Cyrus. He was the Persian Emperor, who conquered the Babylonians, and allowed for God’s people to return to the Promised Land. Cyrus was not of the Chosen People. He was an outsider, a gentile. And yet, the biblical narrative tells us that God anointed him and chose him for the special mission of bringing his people home. It was as much an elevation of Cyrus as it was a conviction against the evil of his own people.
In the Gospel Reading this weekend at Catholic Masses throughout the world, the Lord Jesus is continuing his southern journey from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem. In the account today, another outsider is doing a great work. The unnamed party is preaching and casting out bad spirits, something the apostles themselves found hard to do.
The initial reaction of the apostles is to prevent and intimate the evangelist. Perhaps part of this reaction was born from a purity of intention, but perhaps another part was bred from an implicit accusation to the apostles by this person’s power and ability to bring about spiritual healing and goodness.
In reaction to the desire to isolate the anonymous exorcist, however, the Lord commands his apostles: “Do not prevent him.” In summary, we can imagine the Lord saying, “Let him do the work of my kingdom because someone needs to be doing it!”
After the above direction, the Lord Jesus promises reward to those who are faithful, while also preaching against those who would cause harm or scandal to the little ones.
The application is obvious. While the weekly rotation of Bible readings at the Catholic Mass are always full of meaning and value, every once in a while they strike a particularly intense and apropos nerve in the life of the Church. This weekend is one such moment.
As we see again various news reports about sexual abuse and cover-ups, high Church leaders seem adamant about holding on to power, disguising their neglect, and retaining a deafening silence bordering on apostasy of goodness. Rather than taking up the mantle of accountability, assuming the cross of responsibility, and both repenting and confessing their sins before God and humanity, many high prelates are shamelessly acting as if God doesn’t know what has happened in his kingdom and what has been perpetrated in his name.
In response to such a brazen lack of faith and elementary goodwill, God will direct his gaze elsewhere. He will allow the consequences of obstinacy and sin to play out in the life of his people. There will be bastions razed and assumed temples destroyed. Echoing biblical wisdom, God will demonstrate that he is no fool, and he will cease to look upon these specific leaders ordained by him to govern his people, and will rather search elsewhere for other shepherds after his own heart who will truly care for his people.
God will permit this scourge of evil to run its course, purifying his people, and he will offer his anointing to a new generation of Cyrus. Who they will be or where they will come from we can only guess, and we will most likely be wrong.
God will labor for his kingdom. His word will not go out and come back empty. If some of the ordained will not do the task of guarding the sheep and growing the flock, then the mission will continue in spite of them.
Now is the time to avoid being thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck, a consequence also spoken about by the Lord for misguiding others, and instead to convert, confess sins, and reorient the Church’s vitality and dynamism to the work commissioned by God, such as protecting the little ones, sharing Good News, and exorcising bad spirits.
If current leadership will not do this, then God will raise up others.