“Halleluiah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation” (Ps. 111). It is a joy to give thanks, to offer one’s whole heart, to stand in the assembly of Christ’s Holy Church, to hear wonderful and great deeds. It is a delight to study works of majesty and splendor among those who fear and love God. There is a time to be alone, to go into your room and pray in secret, but there is also a time for the community to gather and hear again the mighty deeds of God and to be renewed by the Spirit. Here is an ideal description of the Church: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). They were all together in one place. All, everyone.
An early Christian source, The Apology of Justin Martyr, describes Sunday worship as an event so important that even those who could not attend were included through the ministry of deacons. He wrote, “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read . . . and there is a distribution [of communion] to each . . . and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons” (Chap. LXVII). By extending communion in this way, everyone was, in a sacramental sense, together.
That is the ideal, and like most ideals, we humans are prodigious in finding ways to fall short. Far too often, a religious assembly is a gathering of certain people to which certain other people are not welcome. So, it is good to recall the incredible and amazing and astonishing ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was gathering and is still gathering people who have been left out. When Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum, he encountered a man with an unclean spirit, and the man said to Jesus, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). Demonic powers, speaking through the man, recognize the truth. Jesus is the Holy One who has the power to destroy the devil and all his works. Jesus teaches with authority, and he acts with authority by setting a possessed man free. Before the healing miracle, however, there was another miracle.
It is nothing short of miraculous that Jesus, a religious teacher, turned to and attended upon the needs of an unclean man, a man troubled in his Spirit, and it is almost certain that those who saw the man felt, at the very least, terribly uncomfortable if not repulsed. Clean and unclean were opposing categories, and the unclean were to keep their distance and stay out. What was Jesus doing with the blind and lame and deaf, a woman with an issue of blood, a man with a withered hand, a demoniac who beat himself with stones and broke the chains that bound him? All these people were unclean! And they make those less troubled uncomfortable. And yet, if we want to find Jesus, we know where he is.
Jesus is saving the human race in all its frailty. His pierced side is an open door that invites the wounded. How can we help? How can we be a bit more like Jesus? We start by letting people be who they are with both their strengths and their many weaknesses. We learn to live with our discomfort and to be more honest about our own wounds and blemishes.
Look It Up: Ps. 111
Think About It: Your whole heart extends to everyone.