26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, CYCLE B
Numbers 11: 25-29 + Psalm 19 + James 5: 1-6 + Mark 9: 38-48
Holy Spirit Catholic Church: September 26, 2021
At the height of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was invited to address
a large rally of Union forces.
The emcee who introduced the president asked him to come forward and lead
the assembly in prayer that God might be on the Union side to help win the war.
When Lincoln came up to the podium, the first thing he said was,
“Sir, I am not really concerned about whether God is on our side.
I am very concerned about whether we are on God’s side.”
In his wisdom and in his humility, President Abraham Lincoln was able to see clearly
the human propensity to claim that God is on “our side,”
so that those on the other side could be demonized or dehumanized.
That’s one of the reasons why when Lincoln formed his Cabinet he chose
a couple of his political opponents to sit on this very important advisory panel.
He needed to listen to them, too.
God is not limited to “one side” or the “other”.
The Spirit of God cannot be bottled up and controlled by one group or another.
The Spirit of the Lord works in unexpected ways through unexpected people
and does not “choose” sides.
Joshua learns this truth from Moses, and John learns the same truth from Jesus.
Joshua is upset because Eldad and Medad were prophesying without being
in the specific gathering to which Moses had invited them.
John complains to Jesus that someone who does not belong to their group
is driving out demons.
Both Joshua and John are very confident they can define the parameters
for who can speak and act in God’s name, but Moses and Jesus know better.
They understand that being on God’s side is less clear, less black and white,
than some would have us believe.
What Jesus would challenge us to do is cut out of our lives those attitudes
which cut us off from others who are different from us, not part of our group.
Jesus challenges us to remove from our lives those actions where we would use our hand
to strike out at “the other” and instead extend an ear to listen and first understand.
We may disagree with the beliefs of another person,
but we should never despise the person who holds those beliefs.
We commit to approaching others with love,
attempting to identify common values based on truth.
We have to cut out labeling others as progressive or conservative
and recognize how they treat others is what matters.
Disciples of Christ are recognized
for how they serve others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable ones.
Receiving a gift of a cup of cold water from another, even such a small, simple gift,
can open our eyes to see the God-given dignity of the one giving the gift.
God’s side is always bigger than our side.
God’s side is always larger than our side.
Now it is natural and necessary to separate good from bad,
people we trust from those we do not, and making such decisions
is an important thing to do, especially for one’s children.
We use the best judgment we can to guide our lives.
But we have to acknowledge that once we have made these important choices,
grouping together all those people we deem good and trustworthy,
that the group God would draw together would be much larger than ours.
Even in the small, select group of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus,
there was a tax collector working for Romans (Matthew),
and a zealot working to overthrow the Romans (Simon).
Jesus dies on the cross not for a certain group of “worthy” people,
but he gives his life for all people, every single person who has ever lived on this earth.
Jesus even welcomes a criminal dying next to him on a cross to be on God’s side.
Jesus even includes on “his side”, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin,
the group that condemned him to death,
and Nicodemus responds by preparing Jesus’ body for burial.
God’s side is always larger than ours, for
God sees a goodness we do not perceive.
God knows possibilities we cannot imagine.
God’s love is not limited to only those we deem worthy.
The more we are drawn into Communion with Christ Jesus,
the easier it is to see the world from his perspective.
For Christ Jesus helps us to see what His Father, who is Our Father, sees.
We are all God the Father’s children, each and every one of us made in God’s image.
We are one human family, all sharing one common home,
this earth given to us to care for and to protect.
It requires humility and courage to see the world from God’s perspective.
We have to be humble enough to know that God’s vision
is always greater than our vision.
We have to be courageous enough to make room for that vision
even if we seem foolish and hopeless naïve to others.
It is not easy to stand on God’s side.
Perhaps that is why we are tempted to believe that God stands on ours.
Fr. Joseph A. Jacobi