Who’s in and who’s out? About a week ago, while I did supervision duty in the school cafeteria, I received a complaint from a ten-year-old that went something like this: “Laelah is washing the tables, and you told me and those three to do it.” I enquired whether the tables were getting washed or not, and when I found out that the job was being done, I told the child not to worry about it. Such a childish situation, or is it? No, it’s that age-old question of who is on the inside with the privileges, and who is on the outside without the privileges.
We read in the Book of Numbers that the question arose for Joshua. Eldad and Medad hadn’t gone to the meeting and yet they were prophesying. They had the same privilege as those who were at the meeting. In Joshua’s mind that wasn’t right, and so he told Moses to stop them. However, for Moses this was not a problem. His desire was that all the people might be prophets, and that God’s spirit might be bestowed on each one of them.
We read of a similar situation in the Gospel of Mark. John is proudly reporting that he tried to stop someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. His reason? Well, that person is not ‘one of us.’ Jesus is not impressed. He reminds John that anyone who is not against him is for him. It is most probable that this story was addressing some situation of exclusion in the early Christian community. We know from the New Testament writings that this question did arise from time to time, and the solution always seemed to lean towards inclusion of people. The universality of God’s saving power and mercy is a strong message in the Gospels and other New Testament writings.
Jesus called people to follow him. His intention was not to form an exclusive inner circle of power and privilege. Jesus gave those who were called a mission to bring his message to the ends of the earth. Jesus was extravagant with the love of God. He knew that there was plenty of it to reach everyone. Wouldn’t you wonder, then, how we got mean and stingy with it? How then can we say that there is not a place at the table of Jesus for everyone, and how can we exclude some people from serving at that table?
It seems to be a human trait to organize and compartmentalize. So we have gathered and labeled ourselves as cultures, nations, classes, races, religions, churches. We have formed closed or semi-closed circuits around our groupings. Consequently we face dilemmas. When the evil of intolerance by any group becomes violent, we have refugees who flee from the terror of war, poverty, death. They have no choice but to come knocking on the ramparts of other groups. These are not Syrians, or Africans, or Central Americans. They are not Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Atheist. They are sister and brother, members of the one wide-open human family, sharers in the same love of the same God. As followers of the way of Jesus, we cannot say that anyone is ‘not one of us.’ We have no option but to say ‘welcome home’.
The challenge of Jesus is difficult. It requires us to leave our compartments, and to develop a mind and a heart as open as the love of God, incarnated for us in Jesus, the Christ.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP