26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
It’s striking to hear these readings right after our 150th anniversary celebration: it seems that God is reminding us that we still have work to do on being inclusive. We are called to be inclusive as individuals, and also as communities—-family, parish, church, nation.
When we exclude others, it is a stumbling block, both for those we exclude and for ourselves. When we, as representatives of Christ and of God, push others away, we steer them away from Christ and from God. Our exclusion is seen as representative, and so they don’t seek God, being fearful of her rejection. Because of this, we also end up distancing ourselves from God, since our will is opposed to his.
Returning for a moment to the First Reading, I have to wonder why the two elders were still at the camp. Scripture does not record the reason, so we are left to speculate. Perhaps they just slept too late, but it’s at least as likely that there was something important that they had to do there. As elders, it’s not unreasonable to think that they would have had responsibilities among the Israelites. Too often, though, we take the part of Joshua, condemning those who do not do as we do, or who are not as we are.
This is a consequence of pride. It’s our arrogance that leads us to exclude others. Not only are we too sure that we are right, but even worse, our arrogance leads us to think that anyone who thinks or does differently is therefore wrong.
As a result, we build in-groups of people who are like ourselves, and wherever there is an in-group, everyone else must therefore be an out-group. Jesus didn’t do this. Jesus was perfect, without sin, but he didn’t seek out people like himself. Instead, he sought out and associated himself with sinners. Instead of following his example, though, we persist in forming in-groups.
Typically, it’s worldly things which form the basis of this: how much we earn; which neighborhood we live in; what clothes we wear; what nation we belong to; how we express our sexuality; or how we worship. Instead of focusing on God and on love, the truly important things, we form attachments to trivialities. In the Second Reading, James challenges these worldly priorities.
The Buddhists teach non-attachment—-letting go of attachments to everything, since anything to which we could become attached will pass away. As Christians, we believe otherwise, and attach ourselves to God, since God will never disappoint us. Any other attachments we form are distractions do be discarded.
God does not fail us because she is attached to us. God’s love for us is inclusive, not exclusive. So much does God want all of us to come to him that Jesus says that it is better to be maimed than to be apart from God. God will pay any price for us to be joined with her.
I think many of us have had the experience of having friends who didn’t get along with each other, and having the awkward choice of whom to invite. If I invite these, then I can’t invite those, and if I invite those, then I can’t invite these. God doesn’t choose between in-groups. With God, it’s never “either-or,” but always “and.”
God invites everyone, and it is for us to accept and echo that invitation. When we become willing to not only work to help people who are in so many ways unlike ourselves, but to even work alongside people unlike ourselves, we help build God’s kingdom of all-embracing love.