As most people know the Catholic Church is organised in a hierarchical way. It also one of the things that some people complain most about: that her hierarchy shows how backward the church is, how it is all about pay, pray, and obey, and that really it’s the most obvious sign that being Catholic is about the worst choice you could make for your life. Now there there are already problems with this argument. One of these is that there is no society, family, or organisation which exists without hierarchy. So if I don’t like hierarchy then I have to opt out of every single kind of social interaction there is.
In today’s readings Jesus gives us a second reason: the church is hierarchical because he wants it that way. And why does he want it that way? Because God himself is hierarchical. As Jesus said repeatedly throughout all the Gospels, while they are co-equal, it’s the Father in all eternity who comes first, begetting, the Son, and the Father and the Son who then spirate the Holy Spirit. Father, and then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. And being hierarchical, everything that God does is done in a hierarchical way. So the whole cosmos is hierarchical. The Bible is a radically hierarchical book. Even human beings before sin are hierarchical. And this is good news for two reasons: one – God has everything under control, in good order, and we need worry about nothing; and two, each of us has has a crucial and unique place, each of us is infinitely valuable, in God’s plan.
Even the most revolutionary amongst us knows the value of hierarchy because that’s something every human being desires: peace, good order. And we hate the disorder in our hearts. This is what the alleluia verse is talking about: May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as part of one body. So first the importance of hierarchy in our hearts – having self-control so that peace rules in our hearts; and second, since our desires are in their proper place, we don’t cause disorder in the world either by jealousy or hatred – and so there is peace in the world too.
And so it is not surprising at all to see that Jesus too is into hierarchy. And we hear it in the gospel today. The Lord appointed 72 others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. So there’s a few things that we can see. Firstly, that Jesus chooses some people and not others for a certain task. The Lord appointed 72 others. He then sends them out ahead of him. In other words, he sends these people out to announce it and prepare the way and to serve in a special way and to act in his name. This is what St Paul is talking about when he says the only thing I can boast about is the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. Because this is what being a bishop or priest, being a pastor, a good Shepherd is about: putting things in order, that he is laying down our life for the sheep.This is why St Paul can say I want no more trouble from anybody after this; the marks on my body are those of Jesus. In other words, Paul’s authority is his willingness to share in the the love of Christ, to be crucified for his sheep. Marked by love.
This is why today’s psalm invites us the church, the new Jerusalem to rejoice: Rejoice, Jerusalem, be glad for her, all you who love her! We rejoice because we have received the gift of hierarchy from our beloved, who gives each of us a unique and important place, who orders the disorder in our hearts into peace, and you gives us lovers, shepherds who are willing to respond to his call and sacrifice themselves with him for the love of the sheep. For that is love: the gift of myself in view of the good of the other. Hierarchy means that each of us is called to get the order right, not to take for me and live alone, but to give myself in view of the good of the other and so be surrounded by brothers and sisters who I love.Let us pray for all of us that we all love each other and serve each other as we should.