Based on Mk. 9:38-40
“Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Anthony de Mello, once told the following story:
In Belfast, Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion. Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings. Make one wish for Peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.”
The minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island. Then peace will reign supreme.”
The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.”
“And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?”
“No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.” 1
It has been said: “Most people, alas, have enough religion to hate but not enough to love.” We are also familiar with the old adage: “Jealousy will get you nowhere.” Jesus, in our gospel today, affirms these truths. In this gospel, we are given a lesson of respect for others different than ourselves. We are challenged to look beyond easy, comfortable stereotypes of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” Jesus teaches us the significance of tolerance, openness and cooperation.
William Neil, commenting on this gospel, once observed:
The words of Jesus are timeless and we all stand accused. How ready we are to build fences instead of bridges, how quick to point out in connection with someone who is undoubtedly doing Christ’s work and serving the community in his spirit: ‘But he or she is not one of us’—not a member of our denomination, worse still, not even a Christian. Exclusiveness and sectarianism have bedeviled the Church throughout its history.2
In our history, we Lutherans have been rather good at exclusiveness and sectarianism! For the longest time, we were a Church divided into many different Synods, against each other. We, like the disciples of Jesus, at times grew jealous of each other. We fought with each other over the strangest things. For centuries we failed to agree on what language God spoke ~ some knew it was German, some knew it was Norwegian, others knew it was something else. It took us Lutherans a long time, however, to figure out what “something else” meant. Finally, we all agreed that God speaks English, then we decided that while we were still in an agreeable mood; we might as well merge into one Synod and become on Lutheran Church.
Now, many years after the merger, lo-and-behold, we are discovering that all of those non-Lutheran Churches have real Christians in them too, so maybe we better start dialoguing with them and working with them in whatever doors are open for them and us. Today, when Christians of different denominations learn more about each other, they are discovering all of us probably have more similarities than we do differences ~ and oftentimes our differences complement rather than contradict each other. Moreover, our differences provide us with opportunities to become more understanding, as well as to learn and grow in our faith. Furthermore, several denominations are discovering that differences that divide them internally are often more pronounced than the differences which divide them externally from other denominations. Cervantes once wisely observed: “Many are the roads by which God carries his own to heaven.” The following example affirms this great truth which Jesus knew and practiced so well:
F.B. Meyer was pastor of Christ’s Church in London at the same time that G. Campbell Morgan was pastor of Westminster Chapel and Charles H. Spurgeon was pastor of the Metropolitan Chapel. Both Morgan and Spurgeon often had larger audiences than did Meyer. Troubled by envy, Meyer confessed that not until he began praying for his colleagues did he have peace of heart. “When I prayed for their success,” said Meyer, “the result was that God filled their churches so full that the overflow filled mine, and it has been full since.”3
Who knows, maybe if enough of us prayed in the same spirit of Pastor Meyer, God may very well choose to answer our prayers in a similar way! Even if God did not answer us in this way, nevertheless, we would benefit greatly by coming to peace with the differences of others and accepting those differences ~ rather than being jealous of them.
In Canada today, we Christians may even be discovering the truth of Jesus’ words: “Whoever is not against us is for us” in yet another way. Some Christians believe that these words of Jesus may also apply to people of other religions. When the Jew, the Hindu, the Sikh, the Muslim, the Buddhist are involved in acts of loving-kindness ~ are they not accomplishing the same goals as those of Christians? One theologian, Karl Rahner, called such people “anonymous Christians” because what they do is the same as what Christians do, although they did not knowingly do it for Christ.
How do we respond to our neighbour next door or our employer and employees at work or our teacher and classmates at school who are not Christians? Do we distance ourselves from them because they are far too different than us? Do we judge or condemn them without knowing much about them or their religion? Or, do we dialogue with them and become more tolerant of them and try to understand and respect them more deeply?
Jesus admonishes us to keep our minds open and to overcome our prejudices. This does not mean that our dialogue is only a matter of focusing on similarities by ignoring or sweeping under the carpet all of our differences! Nor does it mean that tolerance is reduced to a wishy-washy, idealistic never-never land; whereby we say all religions are the same, therefore, we should invent a new religion for everyone based on what we share in common! In contrast to this, true dialogue and true tolerance involves a mutual love and respect for the other who is different than we are; then an allowing that love and respect to lead us in places where God (not necessarily we or they!) wants us to be. It involves exploring ways in which we are able to learn from each other, grow in faith by affirming our differences, and live in peace with each other. It humbly acknowledges that God’s truth is far greater than any single person, congregation, denomination, or religion.
This often helps us to become more deeply appreciative and thankful for the gift of faith that God has given us. I know that has been the case for me, I hope and pray it has been or shall be the case for you too.
So, the next time you catch yourself growing jealous of or prejudiced against someone different than yourself, remember the admonition of Jesus: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Or as one ancient papyri reads: “The one who is far off today will be close tomorrow.”
1 Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight (New York: Doubleday, 1988) p. 79.
2 Wm. Neil, What Jesus Really Meant (Oxford & London: A.R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd., The Alden Press, 1975) p. 50.
3 Emphasis, Vol. 24, No. 3, Sept.-Oct. 1994 (Lima, Ohio: CSS Publishing Co., 1994) p. 33.
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