What Did Jesus Know Anyway?

Refusing Communion to people is a long and honored tradition. Since the time of Jesus himself, religious men have made it their business to protect the Lord from the importunate and the greedy, from the unworthy and the inconvenient.

What did Jesus know, really? Any good public relations (PR) person can tell you that founders of movements are often unable to see the implications of their actions once the movement is established. Founders go on harking back to days gone by, clinging anachronistically to the original concept and refusing to see that progress requires change. That's where a good PR department comes in. A few quick examples:

CHILDREN. Everyone agrees that they are a nuisance. They cry or talk in the middle of long sermons, and they want to play when it's time to be serious. The apostles knew what they were doing when they kept such little ones at a distance, however much Jesus insisted that "of such is the kingdom of heaven" and even said adults should become like them.

LOST SHEEP. Any sensible sheep herdsman will tell you that 99 sheep in the fold are better than one lost in the wilderness. Yet Jesus was still bent on finding that one stray and bringing it safely home. What do you do with a man who can't even do simple arithmetic?

HUNGRY CROWDS. These types are definitely best left to fend for themselves, and the apostles said as much to Jesus whenever the opportunity arose. Jesus however kept being "moved to pity." "Where will they find food at this hour?" he wanted to know. "Give me what you've got, and I'll see what I can do." It didn't matter that the apostles knew the crowds should be left to their own devices : Jesus had other plans.

TAX COLLECTORS AND SINNERS. Although it is obviously sensible to avoid meeting such people in public, Jesus actually seemed to prefer their company, even going out of his way to meet them. "These are the people I was sent to save," he said when questioned on the matter. "Healthy people don't need a doctor. Sick people do."

The present situation of particular bishops refusing Communion to pro-choice legislators is just a modern version of the same old issue. Today's church leaders have taken one of the more lucid sayings of Jesus himself as their inspiration as they tell us (though not in so many words, of course), "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs (Matthew 15:26).

The trouble with Jesus however was that he then let himself be charmed and disarmed by the Canaanite woman's reply, "Ah yes sir, but even the dogs can eat the scraps that fall from the master's table." PR pros can prevent that kind of backsliding today. They can make sure that some of the less suitable impulses of Jesus get edited out or sufficiently blurred and confused to save people from getting the wrong idea.

What would Jesus do about pro-choice politicians receiving the Eucharist? For what it's worth, he left some decent instructions for dealing with erring members of the community: "If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others with you; the evidence of two or three witnesses is necessary to sustain any charge. If he still refuses to listen, report it to the community. Then if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a tax collector or a pagan" (Matthew 18:15-17).

Treat him like a tax collector! Now that seems a pretty sensible solution. Of course here again, one needs to make sure not to follow Jesus' own less-than-helpful example. Otherwise you'd have to pick that erring brother out in a crowd (even if he was perched in a tree!) and beg him to come down, and then invite yourself to have dinner at his house. Thanks, but no thanks! Tax collectors, pagans, prostitutes, public sinners : unfortunately, they were all among Jesus' special favorites.

The church's capable PR people might rightly worry that all the good Catholics they are so carefully shepherding could be led astray by their erring brothers and sisters, and that all the non-Catholics will think this church can't even control its own members. The loving embrace that Jesus extended to the tax collector named Zaccheus may have achieved his conversion and salvation; but what does this Jesus know about the likes of a John Kerry? Leave that to the church PR department. They do such a good job.

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