AYOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS@
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24.
AIM: To explain the difference between the biblical doctrine of human equality, and that of secular humanism.
AAll of you who were baptized into Christ,@ Paul writes in our second reading, Aare one in Christ Jesus.@ Paul affirms this oneness in the face of the three great divisions in his world: racial divisions, social divisions, and divisions of gender. AThere is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave no free person, there is not male and female” Paul writes, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.@
AHow modern,@ we say B and to a certain extent Paul=s teaching about equality is modern. In other respects, however, there are important differences between what Paul is saying, and many modern ideas about human equality. To see how this is so, let=s look at the three kinds of inequality Paul writes about, and compare his teaching with modern ideas. We shall see that if we follow Paul, we shall be able happily to say Yes to many of today=s ideas about equality. To others, others, however, we must sadly say No.
1. Racial equality is often taken today to mean: AThe color of a person=s skin makes no difference.@ Who can argue with that simple statement? In reality, however, things are not so simple. Increasingly we have come to realize that racial and ethnic differences are not barriers to be overcome. They are treasures to be valued and preserved. This realization is behind what is today called Black Pride. It is the reason why we have celebrations of the many different national and ethnic groups in American society: Native American, Greek, Italian, Polish, Hispanic, German, Asian B and many others. Paul would understand this. Even after accepting Christianity, Paul never rejected his Jewish heritage. He remained fiercely proud of Judaism, and of his own birth as a Jew, all his life long.
2. Social equality involved, for Paul, transcending the great division in his world between slaves and free persons. Demands for social equality in our society usually cite a truth which our wonderful Declaration of Independence calls Aself-evident@ B something which doesn=t have to be proved: that Aall men are created equal.@ If we understand those words to mean that we are all equal before God; and that all should be equal before the law (as, sadly, was not the case for slaves until decades after our Civil War), who can quarrel with the statement? As a description of real life, however, the statement that all people are created equal is neither self-evident nor true. Clearly we are unequal in all kinds of ways: in intelligence, in physical strength, in talents, and in temperament. Paul recognized such human inequalities when he told the Christians at
that if they
looked at themselves, they would see that God had not called the highly born,
the sophisticated, the strong, or the powerful.
Instead he called Athose whom the world considers foolish ... the weak ... the
lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing ...@ (1 Cor. 1:26-30). Corinth
3. Gender equality was not even a distant dream in Paul=s world. Women did much of the heavy lifting in the ancient world, while men discussed weighty problems, or made war B a situation which one can still find in parts of the
Middle East today. In the
ancient world women were the property of men until they married, when they
became the property of their husbands. The ninth Commandment, AThou shalt not covet,@ lists a man=s wife among the things one must not
covet. Today, equality between men and women is a fundamental demand of
feminism. Like liberalism and conservatism, feminism is a catchall name for a
movement which includes many different ideas. Insofar as feminism represents
the remedying of legal and social discrimination against women, it is a demand
for simple justice, and something that we Catholics can and must support. Some
feminists go farther, however, demanding not only that jobs and careers should
be open to women at equal pay with men, but making women who do not work
outside the home feel they have chosen something second-best.
The raising of children is an onerous and demanding task. It is not just Astaying at home and baking cookies,@ as a well known feminist politician called it some years ago. Here is something Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical: Familiaris consortio:
There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women=s access to public functions. On the other hand, the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role ... Therefore the Church should help modern society by tirelessly insisting that the work of women in the home be recognized and respected by all ... While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home ... (Familiaris consortio [Nov. 1981] No. 23; italics in original)
Feminists who look down on women who do not opt for careers outside the home are motivated not by Christian principles, but by something very different: secular humanism. This is the idea that humanity, and the supposed greatest good of the greatest number, are the highest values. Secular humanists regard God and religion as purely private matters: optional extras, for people who happen to like that kind of thing. No follower of Jesus Christ can accept that philosophy.
Secular humanists press for a Aunisex@ society in which those who make and administer our laws are forbidden to take any notice of the difference between men and women. No one who accepts the biblical doctrine of humankind can possibly support that. The Bible teaches clearly that the difference between male and female is God-given: a treasure to be preserved, not an obstacle to be overcome. Gender differences, like the differences of race, nationality, culture, and temperament, contribute to the variety and beauty of human life. They reflect the infinite perfection of God, our creator, in whose image we were made. As Catholic Christians, therefore, we say Yes to equality. When equality is interpreted, however, to impose sameness, we say No.
That No is grounded in what Paul says in our second reading. He does not say there that racial, social, and gender differences can be ignored. He says, rather, that for those who in baptism have Aput on Christ@, these differences are transcended: AThere is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free person, not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.@ What we become in baptism, Paul says, is of such fundamental importance that all other differences between Christians sink into insignificance.
Standing in opposition to modern ideas of equality based on secular humanism B saying Yes to equality, but No to sameness B means swimming against the tide of enlightened public opinion today. It means being counter-cultural. We cannot expect to be popular, or even respected. Nor should that surprise us. Patiently enduring misunderstanding, hostility, and rejection is part of our faithfulness to the One who tells us in today=s gospel: AIf anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.@
We carry the cross, yes. But we need to remember that the cross also carries us.