Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Holding things loosed or bound...

In this past weekend’s gospel reading, two Apostles lobby for positions of perceived greatness.  James and John ask Jesus, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left (MK 10:37).”  A few interesting things happen subsequently.

Jesus rather curtly tells these two Apostles they are clueless, “You do not know what you are asking (MK 10:38).”  It inspires all the Apostles to argue (MK 10:41).  And, Jesus settles the Apostles’ argument by saying:

Church leaders stress some of Jesus’ sayings but this does not seem to be amongst their favorites, especially lately.  “Lording it over” others based upon perceived authority seems to be standard operating procedure for many clergy.  How many of us have heard statements like this from an ordained minister?
  • I’m the boss
  • I’m in charge
  • I’m the pastor
  • Do it my way
  • If you don’t like it my way, then leave

These attitudes which directly contradict Jesus’ “anti-lording-it-over” message in last weekend’s gospel stem from something else Jesus said - specifically, “…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (MT 16:18-19).” 

From this MT 16 passage, church leaders justify general apostolic authority as well as the pope’s supreme authority, following in the tradition of Peter.    The pope even has an official title associated with that passage, “Successor of Peter.”   However, the pope has another official title based upon last weekend’s reading too, “Servant of the Servants of God” (“Servus Servorum Dei” in Latin).  This title does not get much airtime these days.  Why not?

The MT 16 passage isn’t the only place Jesus grants authority to hold things loosed or bound.  Later, in MT 18:18 he tells his disciples (not just the apostles), “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  It seems Jesus grants the same authorities to all followers that he granted to Peter, and chronologically does so after granting them to Peter.  Why isn’t this emphasized by church leaders?  Why instead do they fixate upon papal and apostolic authorities?     

Furthermore, the story about the Apostles arguing and Jesus instructing them not to “lord it over” others also appears in Matthew’s gospel.  Reading through these events in Matthew’s gospel we see these three events unfold with the following chronology:
  • Jesus grants Peter authority to hold things loosed or bound (MT 16).
  • Then Jesus grants all disciples (not Apostles) authority to hold things loosed or bound (MT 18).
  • Then Jesus tells the Apostles (not the disciples) not to “lord it over” others and to be servants of all (MT 20).

Somehow it seemed ironic to hear that gospel instruction read shortly after people responded “And with your spirit”, one of several wording changes directly resulting from today’s apostles “lording it over” each other and the laity.   

Hierarchical leaders are not the only people “lording it over” others.  Some laypeople in their zeal for their perception of God’s or apostolic approval, “lord it over” others too.  Thus, we have some “evangelization” efforts that closely resemble bullying as people try to protect the terms “Catholic” and “Christian” from people they choose to hold bound to various things, or try to impose their beliefs upon others.  It would seem that the “apostles’ way or the highway” crowd try to save the church (the Body of Christ) from precisely the people Christ came to save, or some might say, from Christ himself. 

Take heart.  Jesus told the Apostles and disciples many times including in last weekend’s reading that they are clueless.  Saying you get to hold people bound or loosed doesn’t mean you get to write the rules.  You get to decide how they will be enforced. 

Interestingly enough, last weekend’s Psalm gave guidance on enforcement as it spoke of God’s mercy (Ps 33).  Similarly, Jesus repeatedly tells his followers God desires mercy not sacrifice (MT 9:13, MT 12:7).  Thus stringing all these thoughts together, perhaps the message is that we all can hold things loosed or bound but we are to err on the side of holding things loosed (i.e., showing “mercy”). 

Mercy is showing compassion versus cruelty, indifference or hatred.  It is offering forgiveness when it is within your power to punish, censure, or blame.  It deters or alleviates suffering rather than imposes it.

What is our balance of holding things bound versus loosed?  How do we show mercy?  Do we follow people who hold more things bound or hold more things loosed?   

Think about today’s societal topics and reflect upon your attitudes:  How do you treat the jobless, homeless, poor, uneducated, weak?  How do you treat people whose sexual mores differ from yours?  How do you treat their children?  How do you treat the immigrant?  How do you treat people whose religious beliefs and practices differ from yours?  Do you wrap yourself in self-righteousness (i.e. hold things bound) or do you emit mercy (i.e. hold things loosed)?

Do we spend time senselessly arguing who is greatest?   If you are in a position of power, do you lord it over others? 


  1. Perhaps the bishops could benefit by rereading Luke 11:11 and Luke 11:46.

  2. I dont think u have an understanding of the Catholic church, let alone able to give an accurate commentary on scripture. U take the bishops to task maybe rightly so yet you are no better in your rants. I dont think you honestly want dialoug with them based upon how u write. Just my honest opinion!

  3. Dear Anonymous, You violated one of the rules for posting comments in that you did not identify yourself. "Honest opinions" are much more credible when someone has the courage to put their identity with them. Nonetheless, I published them.

    Your comments would be more valuable to consider if you offered specific concrete examples instead of broad sweeping statements. Also your sweeping dismissal of my grasp of the church and scripture would carry more weight for consideration if you offered your credentials that qualify you to make such a judgment statement as well as offered supporting examples that substantiate your assessment.

    Thank you for investing your time reading the blog and offering comments.

  4. Mom, I too read hypocrisy in your criticism of church leaders directly connected to urging mercy. I do not disagree with your messages that church hierarchy should consider their humility and we should follow in Christ's mercy. But, your own rhetoric comes across as condemnation instead of a merciful reflection on the actions of church hierarchy. Perhaps not knowing you personally like I do, the anonymous poster was less able to see past your rhetoric.

  5. Aimee, as I wrote this article I reflected upon potential hypocrisy. I am proud that my child spotted this potential too and had the courage to say something. As often occurs when I write blog articles, I shifted from focus on the hierarchy to focus on one’s self: “Are you doing the same things that the leaders do which cause frustration?”

    However, relative power positions make a difference. I wrote, “Mercy is showing compassion versus cruelty, indifference or hatred. It is offering forgiveness when it is within your power to punish, censure, or blame. It deters or alleviates suffering rather than imposes it.” So let’s dissect this.

    Criticism isn’t hateful or cruel if done constructively. Due to the power imbalance Canon Law grants, the hierarchy tries to shelter itself completely from criticism especially by declaring themselves “infallible”. When people believe they are infallible, it is much more difficult to penetrate this illusion to inspire reflective consideration that perhaps they actually aren’t.

    The hierarchy claim infallibility for themselves and not for the laity. That is a form of structural violence because it basically dismisses the voice of the faithful before it’s ever spoken. “I’m infallible; you’re not; you don’t have anything meaningful to say.” Indifference would be to allow them to live in their delusion of “infallibility”. Compassion says you strap on the barber’s basin and tilt at the windmill to at least try broadening their perspectives.

    “Offering forgiveness when it is in your power to punish, censure or blame” colors quite differently when viewed through different power positions. A person unjustly being beheaded is not in power. Therefore, if they cry out “this is unjust”, that’s not unmerciful. It is a cry for mercy based upon the person’s power. In the church, we have many church leaders metaphorically unjustly beheading people. To call injustice “injustice” is not laying blame; it is candor required to achieve consensus that we have an injustice so that in turn, we can call for mercy and correction. As a layperson, what power do I hold over the ordained?

    The final question is whether or not my blog alleviates or deters suffering. For many people due to the institutional dismissal of the faithful’s voice, some people tell me that my writings are very therapeutic by naming and giving voice to their sufferings.

    Challenging and struggling are different than suffering. I hope my writings challenge people (ordained and lay people including myself) to reflect and perhaps that causes an internal struggle. But, I don’t see how they inflict suffering upon the hierarchy. When a church leader denies communion, fires a person, bars someone from ministry, censures someone, or condemns them to hell, they do impose suffering. As a layperson, I do not have the power to deny clergy communion, fire them, bar them from ministry, censure them or condemn them to hell. - Mom