“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Jesus’ simple phrase has a lot to say. The definition of meek is to be submissive, quiet or, as Websters says:
1: enduring injury with patience and without resentment : mild
2: deficient in spirit and courage : submissive
3: not violent or strong : moderate
In Christianity today, this does not seem to be the prevailing quality. We argue over what we believe are human rights, theology, politics, and everything in between. We know we are right, either through our own experience or because of tradition. We know we are right because a majority of people believe such, or because we are the “only ones being attacked.” To believe in something is not at issue, belief is important, and understanding that belief even more so. however, when belief becomes the catalyst for violence – either physically or spiritually, there is a problem.
His Holiness, Francis, has invited the Lutheran Archbishop of Sweden, the head of the Lutheran church there, for dialogue. For some, who follow ecumenical dialogue, this is both an interesting and exciting development. For others, mostly Catholics it seems, it comes across as gross, disgusting and negligent. First, this “archbishop” is Lutheran, second, and even more “gross” is that this person is a woman.
Whether we are Protestant or Catholic (I think even the Orthodox would know at least a little bit of this), we know what happened in the 1500s. Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, was excommunicated by the Pope in 1521 for not recanting 41 sentences in his writings – including the 95 Theses nailed to the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenburg, Germany. This was the official beginnings of the Protestant church, beginning with Luther, and culminating with what we have today. Luther, as excommunicated, was no longer in communion with Rome, and his followers shared his fate. Those followers would go on to found the Lutheran church, based on the writings and teachings of Martin Luther. His main grief was indulgences and what he saw as economical corruption in the hierarchy of the Church. Obviously, many things were added, such as priests and marriage. Luther, though historically beginning as meek, turned around and was the exact opposite of the word, and disruption and division followed.
Catholics will call this the great Protestant rebellion, and in many ways, justifiably so. However, in many ways, Luther’s assessment of the Church was correct. In so much that the Catholic Church would call a council of reform some years later.
Even before the Protestant division, the Church was split between East and West with the Great Schism of of 1054. Both the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople declared primacy and excommunicated each other. Not for theological purposes, but for politics and power. Obviously, the bishop of Rome used tradition, but so did the bishop of Constantinople – it wasn’t solely defined in their minds – obviously, the Primacy was in Rome. Again, meekness did not seem to be in their vocabulary or disposition. This division was made even worse during the Crusades, where Western armies would plunder and pillage (to be kind) Eastern churches. This dispute, though faded as it is today, is still in existence.
From 1378-1417, within the Catholic Church, we had a division concerning who was actually pope. Springing up was pope after pope, seemingly everywhere, giving rise to the term anti-Pope. This, obviously, caused great confusion among the Catholic faithful. Again, nothing meek about it.
Just like Catholicism, Protestantism has seen its share of division. This is evident in the myriad of Protestant denominations and independent groups, formed largely by further disagreements and dissatisfaction. Even Orthodoxy has seen its share of splits and divisions, with not all looking to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Again, meek eludes the situation.
in John 17, Jesus prays that His people will be one, just as He and the Father are one. Honestly, I have no idea what this means in truth, only that Christ and the Father were one in love and purpose. We know Christ, as a man, did not always see eye to eye with the Father (Take this cup from me), but we also know that despite this, Christ followed the Father’s will. Christ’s divinity overcame His humanity, and I believe that a truth that God desires is for the divinity of Christ in us to overcome he humanity that we are born with, in our case, with original sin. In this only can we truly be one with the Father.
Are Catholics right? Absolutely, Protestantism was and is divisive, and it was schismatic. Are Protestants right? Absolutely, Catholicism was corrupt in many forms. Was Orthodoxy right? Absolutely, even Rome holds their traditions as valid. We must not forget that we are humans first, created in the image of God yes, but we are still human. Our institutions, though they may be divinely inspired, continue to evolve and change as God reveals His truths to us. This is important, for to think we know everything there is to know, and to believe that we are justified by our knowledge and tradition, causes us to miss the simplest, yet most evasive of Christ’s commandments to us, to love one another. To judge someone is to place that same judgement on ourselves that we issue to each other – this is why I believe Pope Francis said “Who am I to judge?” He sees the importance of love first, that judgment can only come from the Throne of God and through His Son. We may be right, but we also can appear to be crazy. If we are right, what is it for? It certainly does not bring reconciliation, which the Church as a whole, both Protestant and Catholic (and Orthodox) needs desperately.
So the Pope is meeting with a woman who has been ordained by the Lutheran Church of Sweden who is currently the archbishop there and head of their church. We have two choices, as both Catholics and Protestants – we can be reviled and say why, why pander to the other side? Why, seemingly, accept the other as an equal or contemporary? We can spread viscous discontent. Secure in our own righteousness trumped up by our own beliefs. In other words, we can accomplish nothing. Or, we can pray, for both the Holy Father and this Lutheran archbishop, that God guides their discussion and time together. We can, even though we may not agree, be supportive of both of them and their meeting together. We can pray that the love of Christ shines through, and forgiveness and reconciliation comes forth. In other words, we can be meek, we can be humble. We can recognize that we serve a God whose ways we simply cannot understand, and praise Him for Christ’s own prayer possibly coming one step closer to being fulfilled.
The ultimate prophecy of Christ may just be that the Church would be divided, otherwise, why would he pray that we may be one. We must understand that no one man has all the answers, and no one church is above all the others. We are all members, all of us who confess the Name of Jesus, of His Body. As wrong as we may be, or they maybe, we are all one family.