Citizens of God’s Kingdom
26 September 2021, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
I am a Salesian priest. Obviously, I am a Catholic. But, I have a confession to make. I have relatives who are not Catholics. My brother-in-law is a Moslem. He, being married to my elder sister, have children. So, I have nephews and nieces who are Moslems. With the present condition of my parents, especially of my mother, my Moslem relatives are the ones taking care of them. When I was about to start my novitiate, my Novice Director, Fr Ronel Vilbar, visited my family. He assured them that my absence is not absence at all. Why? Because Jesus Christ, who has called me to follow Him, will always be present among them. Where is God in the midst of diversity of faiths that seems to divide my family? Does Jesus make His presence felt even through my Moslem relatives? How?
You and I can see and encounter God, who is present in the lives of those who do not belong to the Church and share the kind of faith that we have, by being open. Being open to what?
First, being open to God who is lavishly gracious. We acknowledge the reality of diversity in the world, in our country, in the community and even in our respective family. Why are we varied? Why are we unique? Why are there many approaches to live life meaningfully and fruitfully? In the 1st Reading, Joshua is jealous because aside from the 70 elders who received the gift of prophesy, Eldad and Medad, who were not part of the group, also received the gift. Moses, to correct Joshua, said, “It is the Lord who bestows his spirit on them all!” And so, why are there many gifts? It is because the Lord is free and generous! If we see and encounter God’s graciousness as not exclusive, we can also see and encounter Him in others who are kind, loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving and just even if they are non-believers, seekers, free-thinkers, doubters, and even those who call God with other names. Being open-minded and tolerant begins by acknowledging God as lavishly gracious with His gifts to all!
Second, being open to seek for unity and not for uniformity. What would happen if we remain exclusive and sectarian? The letter of James, in the 2nd Reading, reminds us that such attitudes can cause division. Why? If we become exclusive, sectarian and even elitist, we tend to protect our prestige by holding on to power and position. As a result, there is a great divide between the rich and the poor, those who are educated and ignorant, those who have lots and those who have less. Gifts, that come from God, are not meant to be personalized but they must be shared. As gifts, they are not meant to be hoarded and lorded over but, like our God, we who are gifted, are called to give. This is the kind of justice that God, in the letter of James, demands from us. Justice is not just manifested by marching on the streets, holding our placards and shouting whatever we want. God’s justice is this: we are called to live as His children sharing to one another not only the goods but the Gospel values. If we encounter non-believers, seekers, free-thinkers, doubters, and even those who call God with other names who are kind, loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving and just, they are not far from God. Together with them, we seek what unites, not what divides.
Third, being open to the spirit of dialogue and fraternity. If our being Catholic is “sarado, kandado, with a password”, Jesus, in the Gospel, cautions us that this can create a scandal. Why? There are some of us who claim to have the monopoly of the things about God, the Church and our faith. Such people prevent others to develop an open mind and a generous heart by indoctrinating them. Others even develop hatred and worst, are led to violence just to claim that God is on their side. Much has to be clarified, purified and cut off! And so, Jesus challenges us. If we believe that God is gracious and love, our eyes of faith are meant to lead us to encounter others with compassion. If we believe that we are children of the God who unites, we will use our hands to serve one another regardless of race, denomination, status and orientation. If we believe that God is the Father of all, we do not kick out non-believers, seekers, free-thinkers, doubters, and even those who call God with other names who are kind, loving, compassionate, merciful, forgiving and just. We shall humbly walk with them in the spirit of dialogue and fraternity.
As my Moslem relatives are taking care of my Catholic parents, their kindness and goodness point to God. Having them in my life is God’s greatest gift to my Salesian consecration and to my priesthood. Yes, they are not part of the Church. But there is greater than the Church to which the Church points to: the kingdom of God.
Peace be with you! Assalamalaikum waramatullah wabbarrakkattu! Amen.
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