The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass, while the headlines are meant to keep my thinking real:
BLACK WOMAN CHOSEN AS US ATTORNEY GENERAL
Titus 1:1-9 ©
From Paul, servant of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ to bring those whom God has chosen to faith and to the knowledge of the truth that leads to true religion; and to give them the hope of the eternal life that was promised so long ago by God. He does not lie and so, at the appointed time, he revealed his decision, and, by the command of God our saviour, I have been commissioned to proclaim it. To Titus, true child of mine in the faith that we share, wishing you grace and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our saviour.
The reason I left you behind in Crete was for you to get everything organised there and appoint elders in every town, in the way that I told you: that is, each of them must be a man of irreproachable character; he must not have been married more than once, and his children must be believers and not uncontrollable or liable to be charged with disorderly conduct. Since, as president, he will be God’s representative, he must be irreproachable: never an arrogant or hot-tempered man, nor a heavy drinker or violent, nor out to make money; but a man who is hospitable and a friend of all that is good; sensible, moral, devout and self-controlled; and he must have a firm grasp of the unchanging message of the tradition, so that he can be counted on for both expounding the sound doctrine and refuting those who argue against it.
There are clear signals in this letter which lead scholars to judge that t’s not by Paul but by somene writing in his name, not to deceive but to claim the great apostle’s authority for a new era of the church.
Here we have moved on from the fervor of the new assemblies of believers with the gift of the spirit and the expectation of Jesus’ impending return. This letter is written to a settled community which needs to organise itself for the long haul of maintaining the faith over generations.
There are gains and losses. The writer talks of true religion rather than of a risky faith that might not be a religion at all. There’s no messing about with ideas that contradict good social custom: women are not to be made leaders. “The gifts of the Spirit” are neglected in favour of reliable righteousness. The primacy of the “gospel” is overtaken by the need for sound doctrine.
The qualities required of an elder are not negligible however. He must have admirable personal qualities, a decent family life, enough financial capacity to offer hospitality, and a knowledge of Christain teaching as passed on by people like “Titus”. An elder selected by these rules would be a decent kindly sober man respected by all, able to give the believing commuity a good name in wider society.
He would be recognised by his fellow believers as God’s representative. He was not an “ordained priest”; but he was the guarrantor of Apostolic faith and probably offficiated in the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. It is no longer the Assembly of believers as the body of Christ which represents God, but rather a specially appointed person from within the community.
Some have interpreted this and the other “Pastoral letters” as evidence of the Gentile churches moving towards a sort iof proto-catholicism, with the beginnings of a emphasis on hierarchy. I think that is to stretch a point too far. The letter gives us an insight into a Christian community at perhaps the beginning of the 2nd century CE, adjusting to its task of survival by appointing people to receive and transmit the tradition of faith and to guide the church community by strength of character.
In a time of increased feminisation of the church, there can be a tendency to undervalue the gifts and boys and men. This passage reminds us the genuine qualities which co-existed with mistaken partriarchal assumptions and still exist today.
Luke 17:1-6 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Obstacles are sure to come, but alas for the one who provides them! It would be better for him to be thrown into the Sea with a millstone put round his neck than that he should lead astray a single one of these little ones. Watch yourselves!
If your brother does something wrong, reprove him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, “I am sorry,” you must forgive him.’
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’
Jesus had a special care for children and welcomed their trust. But here the little ones are disciples: they have followed Jesus’ command to enter God’s Rule like children. Because this involves radical trust in God and their fellow disciples, they are vulnerable. An open and trusting spirit cannot be turned on and off like a tap. The obstacles that Jesus foresees are malicious traps (literally “Stumbling blocks”) which may destroy a person’s faith. Jesus recognised that his own unconventional behaviour could be made into “obstacles” for disciples, but he was clear that destroying someone’s faith had terrible consequences for the perpetrator.
One possible source of obstacles among Jesus’ followers was the fact that they remined sinful people and would wrong each other. Luke presents Jesus’ uncompromising answer: forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. All obstacles could be removed if people learned to say sorry when they wronged someone and to forgive when someone said sorry. This remains good guidance but it makes huge demands on any community of believers.
Perhaps that’s why the disciples asked Jsus to increase their trust in God. Jesus’ reply suggests he didn’t think of faith as a commodity which came in greater or lesser chunks. Even a tiny amount of real trust will transform the world. Jesus would probably not have organised “Christian Education Events for the increase of personal faith and ecclesial effectiveness”.