Delusions of the Elite

Luke 9: 51-56
Jb 3: 1-3,11-17,20-23 / Psa 88

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?
(Luke 9:55)

If in our search for truth, others we
Treat with prejudice or disdain,
Take heed our self-righteousness may be
Making what we believe in vain.

As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And He sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them? But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (Luke 9:51-56)

Reflection

There seems to be a continuing undercurrrent of anti-elitism in this chapter of Luke’s Gospel, particularly aimed at the members of Jesus’ inner circle. In yesterday’s Gospel account, St. Luke relates how the apostle John tried to stop a man from expelling evil spirits “because he is not one of us.” Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you” (Lk.9:49-50). In today’s gospel, the same apostle and his brother brashly volunteered to “call down fire from heaven to destroy” a Samaritan village because that tribe of people refused to welcome them as they were headed for Jerusalem (Lk.9:53-54). Again, Jesus rebuked them as they decided to go to another village instead.

Earlier, the apostles argued among themselves who was the greatest, and we can presume the brothers James and John, the first batch recruited by our Lord together with Simon and Andrew must have been the most assertive. Remember the request of their mother to Jesus to sit her two sons at the right and left of the Lord in His kingdom? (Mt.20:21) Then they were jealous about their “exclusive franchise” on demonic expulsion. Now the same “Sons of Thunder” revealed their extreme prejudice against a group of people that they considered second-class citizens of Palestine. Clearly, their close association with the Messiah had made them feel that they were an elite group, a cut above the rest of the disciples, empowered to judge others outside their “sacred circle”. They were behaving exactly like the Pharisees who set themselves apart from the Jewish population, regarding themselves as righteous in the observance of Judaic laws.

Even the most respected leaders of Charismatic communities are not immune to this sense of prejudice and conflict of status. Recently, we read about a well-known founder of a poverty alleviation movement being stripped of his membership in a Catholic renewal organization by its “council of elders”. Assuming that this report is true and accurate, one can only wonder what the elders of that community hoped to accomplish by alienating many of their members who have supported and worked with this founding visionary’s crusade for the poor. Instead of taking pride in the fact that the successful self-help shelter and poverty alleviation program which has now become a global phenomenon was initiated and nurtured in their organization, its council of elders opted — perhaps in the guise of “discernment” — to set themselves apart from this noble undertaking. Was this really for the good of the organization, or were they merely exercising their power as a council because their status as the elite leaders were being threatened? Sadly, these elders may have forgotten that our Lord’s primary message in His Gospel is how we can best serve the least of His children.

Heal us, dear God when we are afflicted with prejudice and self-importance. Remind us that we are called by Christ to serve and not to judge; to be one with all your children, and not to put ourselves or anyone else apart, but to set our hearts firmly in our mission to spread our Lord’s message of love, forgiveness and unity to all men. Amen.

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