Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday of the Second Week in Lent

Esther 13:8-11, 15-17 / Matthew 20:17-28

And the ten, hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

Family systems therapists have presented the idea of the symptom bearer or the identified patient. As a therapeutic method, family systems therapy puts its focus not on the individual, but rather on the network of the relationships within a family, on the "game" or interpersonal "rules" in play that, conscious or not, govern how the family behaves both severally and in common. However, when a family finds itself under stress, it often will select one or a few members and designate him or them as the cause of the stress. More often, the family will narrowly focus on the (real of imagined) problems of this symptom bearer or identified patient, even coming to the therapist as though seeking to solve "his" problems. In so doing, the family is able to mask, even from itself, the larger stresses and dysfunctions which it is experiencing as a whole. If only he or they would stop acting that way, the family tells itself, things would be better.

We see something of this pattern of behavior among the Twelve. Jesus has just taken these, his intimate friends aside and revealed to them plainly the Paschal Mystery, that the Son of Man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and the third day He shall rise again. This surely ought to be of greatest importance to each of the Twelve. However, it is not so. Instead, they choose to be distracted by the request made by the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, that they should sit on the right and left of the Lord Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. In fact, they do not wonder or marvel at the request. They are rather moved with indignation against these two who, it is clear, may not fully understand what Jesus has just told them, but are admittedly willing to die for him. All the same, what holds the attention of the ten is not Jesus' presaging his betrayal, suffering, death, and rising to new life, but anger at their own brothers out of at best a misdirected sense of defending the Lord's honor, at worst of envy. What it serves to do, however, is to mask from their minds their own failure to understand what Jesus has just foretold, and how these events to come in Jerusalem mean more than any wrangling about one's place in the kingdom.

We can also be guilty of this dynamic in the Church. We can choose to focus on some one person or group: this sister, that priest, this lay movement, those bishops. We can focus on them as the problem, make them the symptom bearers, the identified patients, imagining that, if we could only fix them, then things would be fine, the Church without any other problems or worries. The error of this view is that, however right we are in assessing that others in the Church, or even ourselves, have been and continue to be the cause of disruptions, picking out anyone as a symptom bearer blinds is, distracts us from our need to grow in charity and understanding with all those who are reborn to new life in Christ.

This Lent, are we willing to forsake the temptation to select for ourselves the identified patients of the Church, neither designating others or ourselves as the symptom bearer? Are we ready as the family of faith to be served by Jesus Christ, who is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many, and in his service to us, to love one another all the more?

O God, the Restorer and Lover of innocence, direct towards Thyself the hearts of Thy servants, and inflame them with the ardor of Thy spirit, that they may become both steadfast in faith and effectual in deed. 

No comments: