Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 contributor Michaelangelo Allocca, whose brief bio can be found by clicking here.
Today’s liturgical readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.
“I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!”
Confession: I sure wish I could edit today’s readings to more consistently reflect my own theological leanings. The temptation to edit scripture is certainly not original or unique to me (see Thomas Jefferson), I realize. I also realize – since I’m not a total hypocrite – that I need to resist it, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
The quote I began with (Lk 13:27) is the line I would prefer to eliminate, if I could. It conflicts with an idea I generally favor: Jesus as unconditionally welcoming and accepting, and who would not say “Depart from me!” to anyone. On the question of whether we should exclude anyone from the Eucharist, I usually point to the only Eucharist we know of where Jesus distributed Himself, and the fact that the Gospels give no reason to believe that he excluded Judas from sharing in His Body and Blood, though He was fully aware of Judas’s guilt. If anyone ever deserved a “depart from me, evildoer!” it would be Judas, and yet he did not get one from Jesus.
The Jesus I prefer to envision is the one who embodies what Pope Francis (who, I am sure not coincidentally, also insists that he has never denied anyone the Eucharist) describes as the “culture of encounter.” That is, the Jesus who meets anyone, and welcomes them, no matter who or what they are. Francis has emphasized this idea throughout his papacy and most recently cited it in a letter to the organizers of the Outreach 2022 Conference, held this past June. In this letter, the pope said, “I encourage you all to keep working in the culture of encounter, which shortens the distances and enriches us with differences, in the same manner of Jesus, who made himself close to everyone.”
Ironically, this Jesus who makes himself close to everyone is found in the very same passage from Luke’s Gospel that contains the “Depart from me!” Two verses later, Jesus says, “And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” In standard biblical language, ‘from east, west, north, and south,’ means that all people, not just God’s specifically chosen nation, but Gentiles as well, are eligible for eternal happiness in God’s presence. Jesus’ ‘from the four corners of the earth’ is underlined and foreshadowed in today’s reading from Isaiah 66:18-21, in which God promises to gather in people from all nations.
To return to the Holy Father’s letter and the “culture of encounter,” and how they connect with today’s readings: the letter was actually a “thank you” note. Outreach 2022 was held in June in New York, at Fordham University and St. Paul the Apostle church. (Outreach, the ministry organizing the conference, operates under the auspices of America Media) Some of us remember a time when it would have been unthinkable that the pope would respond positively to receiving ”a copy of the conference brochure, along with a letter describing what happened at the conference, especially the panel conversations among people with various viewpoints.” But it was precisely this which Francis wrote to say “thank you” for, and his emphasis on the “culture of encounter” seems the key to today’s readings.
Could Jesus mean his “Depart from me!” precisely for those who would try to exclude others? In emphasizing the welcome offered to “outsiders,” while rebuffing the “in crowd” who say “We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets,” he condemns those who would presume that they are on the guest list, and know exactly who is off it, and why.
Where once the standard was heredity, excluders of our day tend to prefer descriptors like “intrinsically disordered.” I’m still not sure Jesus literally meant that he would tell anyone “Depart from me!” but I’m pretty certain He is telling us to stop saying it to other people, and claiming we do it in His name.
—Michaelangelo Allocca, August 21, 2022