Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. —Matthew 1:20
We have a lot to learn from people like Quakers and Mennonites. They are well practiced in being a minority.
They don’t need to have crowds around them to believe that it is the truth. They gather in little groups and share the Word of God. And that, thank God, is what is also happening again in the Catholic church. We call them the “base communities” of Latin America or the Bible study groups of America and Europe. Breaking open the Word of God cannot depend on people like me, theologians or people who have studied professionally. If that would be true, then 99 percent of humanity will never have access to God’s Word.
These faith-sharing groups are directed not by a professional teacher or an expert, but rather what we call a facilitator or animator—one who holds the group together and knows what questions to ask to keep people searching and praying. The groups read a Gospel text, sometimes three times, and then they ask questions: What threatens them in the text? What makes them excited about that text? What is really challenging in that text? What do they think Jesus was really talking about? What was the world situation when Jesus told that particular story? Are there any comparable situations today to which this text might apply? Or perhaps in the Gospel of Matthew, “Do you really think Joseph understood what was happening? Was his trust in Mary, his dreams and the visions of angels really total certitude? Or was it actually faith?” Such questions are allowed and encouraged.
Whatever gave us the idea that one little select group of similarly educated people would best understand what God was to all people? The Word of God is being given back to the poor. The Word of God is being given back to the uneducated and the imprisoned. The Word of God is being given back to women. The Word of God is being given back to non-celibates (for us in the Catholic church). The Word of God is being given back to someone other than those who are the employees of the religious system. What we are finding is that the Word of God is being read with a vitality, a truth and often a freedom that is exciting, much more challenging and often making us wonder if we have ever understood it before. Just try it. This will not lessen the authority of the church or the Scriptures, but only increase it because we will have spiritual adults in our midst. Spiritual adults do not overreact or think dualistically, but they listen and learn and grow.
What simple messages from the Gospel are you missing?