87 Mindful of Christ's words to his apostles: "He who hears you, hears me",(49) the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.
The footnote source (#49) comes from St. Luke 10:16, and I was interested to see the precise context of Christ’s words. Chapter 10 in St. Luke is subtitled “The Mission of the Seventy-two” in the 1970 New American Bible. Jesus, in this chapter, appoints a further 70 or 72 disciples. As the NAB notes, various manuscripts differ in number, and each count is not without significance. The “72” is a multiple of twelve and may be related to the later apostolic mission of Twelve described later by St. Luke in his Acts of the Apostles. The number “70” has significance, too, as the Greek canon of the Old Testament was referred to as the Septuagint translation, i.e. “translation of the seventy interpreters” not long before time of Jesus. In Bible books today, the abbreviation LXX refers to the Septuagint canon/translation.
Both numbers thus refer to teaching or announcing in some context. Continuing with Luke, Jesus sends the 72 in pairs “like lambs among wolves.” (10:3) They travel light, extremely so— “no money bag, no sack, no sandals, and greet no one along the way.” The NAB comments on the sense of urgency here. The mission is the announcement of peace to a household. If you use the Tuesday blog on Sunday Gospels, you may remember that “peace” is a significant word in the Gospels, and the greeting of peace was the first declaration of Jesus to the disciples on Easter in St. John’s narrative. “Peace” is a multi-layered word, conveying the comfort of God, the forgiveness of God, the protection of God. The 72 are commanded to say, “Peace to this household,” as their formal greeting.
Jesus goes on to say that if a peaceful person lives in that household, “your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you.” Several commentaries make the point that the householder is a child of peace, it is because he or she is predisposed to receive God’s kingdom with an open heart or the householder has already heard or seen something of Jesus’ mission. The disciples are to stay in the homes of peaceful people and perform the works of the kingdom, such as curing the sick and expelling demons.
On the other hand, in towns where the offer of peace is rejected—implicitly the rejection of God’s favor—it returns to the disciple and the householder is without the presence of God. As the text unfolds, it becomes evident that this rejection of peace has major consequences: “Go out into the streets and say, ‘the dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.” After citing several cities that have responded poorly or without interest to the might deeds Jesus has already worked in their midst, Jesus states “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
This is the Biblical footing for Paragraph 87: that the “teachings and directives” of pastors in different form are to be received with docility. In one sense the paragraph says too little; in another sense, too much. If indeed the spirit of Luke 10:16 is the intended message here, then para. 87 has said too little. The commission of the 72 was not the delivery of teachings and directives, but a search to find the predisposed or the potential believer, possessing peace, to reinforce that faith by continuing the works of the Kingdom. The Gospel response of the householder is to house and feed the disciples—a very public show of support in a modest sized Palestinian town. When Jesus states in Luke 10 that “the workman is worth his wages,” he understands that public identification with his message is a very big “wage” for a believer, but implied is the reality that the one paying the wage is getting the best of the deal—the peace of God and the assurance of belonging in God’s Kingdom.
To use the word “docility” does not seem to capture the urgency nor the depth of response to what is proclaimed and taught. I am allowing for two mitigating factors: (1) the word “docility” is a translation from the Latin original dociliter, which does have two meanings, attentively and docilely. The first meaning might have translated more forcefully into English. (2) Para. 87 continues a sequence on the handing down of Revelation through the Apostolic Tradition and should be read in that light. Monastic spirituality has a term, “obedience to the text,” where a reader drops his or her “critique mode” and puts full trust into the wisdom of the text, whether from Scripture or other sacred writing of the Church treasury.
On the other hand, there are several considerations—both from Vatican II—that need to counterbalance the nuances of para. 87. The first is the understanding of the Initiation Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist—which invest the faithful with responsibility, power, and insight in the Church. In multiple Vatican II documents the critical roles played by the laity are redefined and their counsel—arrived at through full communion with the Spirit in the Church—has weight. The faithful must hear the Word in “obedience to the text,” to be sure, but their response is anything but docile. The Christian who hears the Word of God but responds in passive docility stands condemned like Chorazin and Bethsaida in Luke 10, where Jesus had invested considerable energy in the pronouncement of his Kingdom.
Para. 87 claims too much when it commands the faithful to receive with docility the teachings and directives of their pastors. I am assuming that the term “pastor” in this context refers to all ordained clergy who transmit the faith of Apostles. The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism teaches that “when comparing doctrines with one another, they should remember that in Catholic doctrine there exists a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the fundamental Christian faith.” For example, nearly all major Christian faiths hold to the Nicene Creed, or before that, the Pentecostal summation of Christian faith preached by Peter in Acts 2 on Pentecost.
If this is the meaning of [Apostolic] teaching referred to in para. 87, it is hard to argue with that. I would emphasize, too, that matters defined as doctrines by the whole Church, such as papal infallibility or the Assumption of Mary, must be held and reflected upon by Catholics as part of the treasury of faith. The difficulty with para. 87 is its failure to distinguish between the heart of Tradition and the housekeeping of the kingdom via administrative oversight. The word “directives” is particularly irksome. Directives come from the Vatican on matters such as chalices at Mass (they must be of gold or precious metals.) Or, directives come from bishops, such as in Kansas City, MO, this week where the sale of Girl Scout cookies is now prohibited on church grounds because of the GS’s alleged ties to Planned Parenthood.
Theologians of the last several generations have warned of “creeping infallibility,” or the tendency to ascribe divine origin to every managerial decision under the ecclesiastical sun. Authoritarian overreach obscures the critical heart of the message of the Kingdom, which Luke makes very clear in Chapter 10. What has been taught or handed down in urgency must be received in urgency. Without this principle, docility becomes obfuscation.
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