24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B

Isaiah 50:4c-9a; Psalm 116; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35


Near the end of the 1939 classic film The Wizard of Oz,

          Dorothy and her friends come before the Wizard

                    bearing the broom of the vanquished Wicked Witch of the West. 

They demand that he keep his promise

          to give them the things that they desire: 

                    brains for the Scarecrow,

                    a heart for the Tinman,

                    courage for the Cowardly Lion,

                    and a one-way trip back to Kansas for Dorothy. 


When the Wizard demurs

          and insists that they come back another day,

          they refuse to leave

                    until they receive what they were promised. 

Dorothy tells him:

          “If you were really great and powerful,

                    you’d keep your promises!” 

Her dog Toto then pulls away the curtain

          to reveal that the Wizard is in fact just a man,

                    one who struggles mightily to keep up his image

                              even as he is being exposed.


Dorothy castigates the Wizard:

          “You’re a very bad man.”

The Wizard responds:

          “No, my dear, I’m a very good man. 

                    I’m just a very bad wizard.” 


In the wake of his exposure and humiliation he uses gifts

          —a diploma, a medal and a testimonial—

          to awaken and affirm in the Scarecrow, Lion and Tinman

                    the brains, courage and heart

                              that they had within themselves all the time. 

He also helps Dorothy to find her way home.


I wonder whether this may be a useful if imperfect metaphor

          for what’s happening in the Roman Catholic Church today

                    as we continue to address the crisis of crimes and cover-ups

                              in various parts of the world

                              but especially here in the United States. 


Like the Wizard,

          the trappings of power and authority of abusive or negligent church leaders

          have been stripped away and they have been exposed. 

It may be easy or convenient

          to simply dismiss them as bad men,

          but the more complicated and uncomfortable truth

                    is that many of them have been good men

                              who nevertheless did or allowed some terrible things, even crimes.

That’s part of what it means to be a sinner.

            As St. Paul noted well in Romans 7,

                        even when we know what is good, we don’t always do it.

            We fail, and sometimes we fail terribly.


Many people within the Church and outside of it

          are (again) demanding more complete accountability;

                    destruction of the cancer of clericalism;

                    the truth-telling that must accompany any meaningful reconciliation;

                    integrity from those who have professed to live chaste and celibate lives

                              for the sake of the kingdom; and

                    more opportunities for victims and survivors to tell their stories,

                              reclaim their lives, and receive some measure of justice;

They are calling forth the many gifts of the laity—especially women—

          to create new systems of governance and accountability.


These are gifts

          that lay women and men have possessed for years,

          and it is past time that they be awakened and used

                    in a process of fundamental conversion and reform in the Church

                              that will take years if not decades. 


Jesus tells us in our gospel reading

          that his revelation as our Messiah

                    is not in the trappings of earthly power and glory

                    but rather in weakness, humiliation, rejection, suffering and death.

He tells all who would be his disciples:

          “Whoever wishes to come after me

                    must deny himself,

                    take up his cross, and follow me. 

          For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,

                    but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”


We are in a painful, terrible and shameful chapter in the history of the Church. 

But even the worst crisis is also an opportunity. 

            We have a choice.

This can be a moment of grace: 

          a time to turn anew to the God who is our help,

                    the God who is merciful and just;

          and a time to demonstrate our faith by our works.  +