26TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
‘Inclusiveness’ is a modern virtue! We are told of the importance of ‘inclusive language,’ sales people and politicians stress that all references to people must be ‘inclusive’: we are this, we are that, we are the other and we are supposed to be moving forward. As soon as any person or group is not ‘in the loop’ or consulted or mentioned, then there is trouble. Every decision must be inclusive because if someone or a particular group is excluded, then there will be BIG trouble. ‘Exclusiveness’ seems at time to be virtue! A chic, expensive restaurant where people want to be seen is an ‘exclusive restaurant’ — ‘exclusive’ is an adjective of quality and approval. ‘An exclusive holiday destination’ is where only a few, ‘the so called better people’ go. In an exclusive resort there will be no riff-raff! An ‘exclusive offer’ for this or that comes with every postal delivery: it means we, just a few of us, are special. Unlike the great-unwashed mass of humanity, we appreciate such an exclusive opportunity and, indeed, being the special sort of people we are, we deserve this exclusive offer.
Exclusion as a tool within society is deeply programmed into us. The tribe is defined by the people who-do-not-belong. Then they become’ the others’ and because they are not’ with us,’ they are opposite us, and so they can easily be seen as opposed to us, and a threat. The others must be kept in place, they must be controlled, excluded from power, made subject to us and, if necessary, be destroyed. Exclusiveness is ideal as a means of making us united, but then can often destroy us in the conflicts and wars that it makes possible. We only have to look at the wars of the last century to see this.
In the Gospel reading for today the disciples were scandalized by an outsider curing in Jesus’ name. To the Jew of Jesus’ time, a name revealed the power and purpose of the particular person; to invoke the name of Jesus meant to tap into his healing power. But use of the name had a price; to use a name meant the one invoking it had a relationship to the person, the power, and the movement the name represented. On these grounds, John objects to the outsider healing in Jesus’ name. John’s question seems to say: “How dare he! This outsider should not be doing this it really should be one of us!”
Jesus turned the objection to the question of discipleship. No matter how small the kind act, no one who did good in the name of Jesus should be stopped. In fact, anyone who did not oppose Jesus and his movement were considered potential friends and benefactors. (This outward world view allowed Christianity to grow rapidly. Anyone was a potential Christian.) Friendship began with a simple kindness. A benefactor relationship began with a single act of charity. The good others did for Christ and his followers did matter then as it matters for us today! God’s choices are often surprising to us, and we might even be tempted to say: incomprehensible! For in today’s gospel we hear about someone who, no doubt having heard of the power of Jesus’ name, uses this strength and power to cast out demons, but without belonging to the group of disciples that the Lord had called to himself. This particular Gospel reading is a precious guide for our everyday life: “He who is not against us is for us.” When someone is NOT hostile toward Christ’s faithful, how could we judge his intention toward us? God alone knows the depths of our own hearts and all of the thoughts of our minds!
Who could say that the Lord had not given such a person the gift of his grace in order that this same person might love him in his heart? God and his church are a free gift, at all times, in all places through so many people given to all of us! If we look outside of our so called tribes and comfort zones with eyes of faith we will find that there will be many more people for us than there are against us. We remember the lines from the gospel for today;
Jesus said, “no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us”let us remember these words in the days ahead.