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home : events : from sunday bulletins

10/1/2015 9:00:00 AM
How large is your tent?
'When the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and errors of the past.'
Pope Francis, addressing members of the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., Sept. 24

* * *
'I ask you all to please pray for me...and if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you please to send good wishes my way.'
Pope Francis outside the White House, Sept. 24, speaking to the crowd after addressing Congress


When I was a child, I passed by a Protestant church every day walking to school. That church fascinated me, because it looked very different from my parish, St. Patrick's in Troy.

When the doors of the Protestant church were open, I noticed it had no altar or statues of saints. I was tempted to go in, but restrained myself because my Catholic school teachers warned us to be wary of non-Catholics who did not belong to the "true Church."

Last Sunday's Scripture passages brought back that childhood memory. The readings from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel have a common theme concerning the walls we build between those who are like us and those who are different from us.

It is not uncommon for human beings to see people whose skin color, religion, sexual orientation or cultural customs are different from our own as outsiders. When we belong to a group -- any group -- we may be suspicious of those who are not part of that group. We may even close ranks and try to keep those who are different outside of our group!

That process is visible on our TV screens, as we watch thousands of migrants knock on the doors of other countries seeking safety.

On the journey to the Promised Land, Moses complained to God that he needed help. He could not meet the people's needs by himself. God sent the Spirit on 70 elders gathered in a tent, but Eldad and Medad did not get there in time. Like so many of us, maybe these two were always late!

Even so, Eldad and Medad received God's Spirit and began to prophesy like the others. Joshua was upset that these two men had not been ordained for the job! Joshua viewed them as outsiders, without proper credentials. Moses, however, was not jealous or threatened by the outsiders. Rather, he rejoiced over the way God lavishly gives His gifts, and prayed that all the people of Israel might be prophets!

Jesus' disciples were as narrow-minded as Joshua. They tried to stop someone who was driving out demons in Jesus' name because he was not one of them. Again, the unnamed exorcist was an outsider, not a card-carrying disciple.

Jesus dismisses their objections. Jesus sees that the outsider is doing good works in Jesus' name. Jesus sees the outcome, the good works of this exorcist, and knows that everything that is good is done in the name of God, who is the source of all goodness and good works.

Every person who does good in this world, gives a drink to someone who is thirsty or serves a child will be rewarded. Jesus is not concerned with what group people belong to or their credentials; it is the substance of our lives, our actions and behaviors, that is important to Him.

The reign of God, God's tent, is much wider and more inclusive than any earthly institution or structure.

Discipleship is not about belonging to the right group, being in the right church or associating with the right people. Disciples are people who recognize God's spirit in every person on this planet and do whatever they can to help alleviate suffering in this world.

While it's easy to criticize the narrow-mindedness of Joshua and the disciples, we see in their behavior much of ourselves. We may consider ourselves "Church insiders" and resent those who don't attend church regularly, or dismiss those who worship in other tents -- Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus -- or those who worship no God at all.

Prejudice toward those outside our group can blind us to God's Spirit, which moves as it will, blowing inside and outside the little tents we construct to try and contain God.

Sunday's readings revealed a God who is extravagant in spirit, who moves beyond all artificial boundaries to bring life to all. There is no place in God's reign for bigotry, racism, sexism, sectarianism or any other disease that divides and separates human beings.

Last week, we saw Pope Francis' powerful witness to the inclusiveness of God's reign. He met with powerful world leaders of Cuba and the United States, as well as with the poor, the displaced and the least. His message transcended human boundaries of national identity, religion and culture. He spoke of our common home, the planet Earth, and urged all to care for our common home and to work for the common good.

Pope Francis affirmed that the whole earth and all its people are in the same tent. We should be filled with joy. Our God is a God of surprises, who will not be confined to any tent!

Have you ever seem a photo of Earth from the Hubble telescope? No national boundaries, no separations are visible. Earth is simply a large sphere with water and land masses. It is our common home. This is God's perspective on our planet.

The question for each of us to ponder is: How large is our tent?

(Deacon Solomon serves St. Francis of Assisi parish in Northville and St. Joseph's in Broadalbin.)

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