We Should Not Put Obstacles In The Way Of Spreading Of The Gospel

We Should Not Put Obstacles In The Way Of Spreading Of The Gospel August 21, 2022

Ted: St Paul Preaching / flickr

Those who have been called to share the Gospel, making sure that others can receive its blessings, should make sure they do not place any obstacles in the way of its reception. They should act with love and care for all. They shouldn’t be acting as mercenaries, demanding specific monetary rewards for their work. This is not to say that they can’t hope that those who can should help them with their needs. What it means, however, is that if their work is truly done out of love, instead of any mercenary activity, they will do what they can to make sure that others receive what they need, even if they find it difficult to have their own earthly cares met. This is something which Paul made clear:

Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?  Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:6-12 RSV).

Paul pointed out that some have such a vocation which could have them refrain from ordinary work. This is not to say that they can’t do such work, when necessary, for we know that Paul worked as a tentmaker, sustaining himself through his labors. However, he believed that some could and should expect to have their livelihood supported by the church. In saying this, he was clear, contrary to the way some misunderstand his words, that he did not think everyone need to “work,” that is, engage some money-making activity, in order to have their living needs met. When he said that those who would not work should not eat, he was dealing with a specific circumstance; he was not making a universal claim (otherwise, infants, who certainly do not work, would not eat, and so would starve to death).  He thought that those who embrace the Gospel to make it their life’s work should make sure what they do does not turn people away. If they demanded payment for their evangelization, it would mean they would end up ignoring the poor, addressing only the rich and powerful, contradicting the message of the Gospel with its preferential option for the poor.

Jesus, throughout his ministry, made it clear that we should treat each other with love, while promoting and doing what we can to support justice in the world. This is why we should not demand of others what we are unwilling to do ourselves, even if, or especially if, we find ourselves in some position of authority. This is, of course, a part of Paul’s point. The apostles and others in leadership positions in the church should be able to do their work, and in part, that means, rely upon others to help them; but such reliance has a limit, and when it goes beyond that limit, it can become an excessive demand, which will then become an obstacle for the spreading of the Gospel, and its graces, around the world. Those who end up making such a demand risk suffering the consequences of their injustice. We can see this as one of the messages found in Jesus’s story of an unjust servant to a king:

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.  But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.’  So his fellow servant fell down and besought him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’  He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt.  When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’  And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt.  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Matt. 18:32-35 RSV).

While we can and should learn from this that we should be merciful to others once we have received mercy ourselves, this is even more true to those who have positions of authority, such as priests and bishops, who, like Paul, have been given all kinds of graces so as to share them with others. If they try to withhold the graces which they have received, and only share them to those who satisfy their personal wants and desires, they end up creating obstacles for grace in their own lives. Without such graces, they will experiences the burdens they want to put on others in their own lives. For it is clear, clergy not only have been forgiven much themselves, but they are in positions of authority so as to help administer and share the graces of God in the world; the more power and authority they have been granted, the more they should use it to serve the needs of others, and not their  own private desires.

Paul made it clear that some people’s work in the world will require them to rely upon others to sustain that work. If they do so, they still should do what they can to make sure they do not become a terrible burden. This is not to say they shouldn’t expect those who have the means to help to ignore them and their needs, but on the other hand, they can and should do all that they can without such aid. For if they don’t, they end up focusing not on the work they should be doing, but on the money they seek from others. Soon afterwards, they can and quickly will lose sight of the love which stand at the forefront of their actions, turning instead into mercenaries, and as mercenaries, whatever they get will likely be the extent of the reward they receive for their service.

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