Fr. Charles Irvin
Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
Who’s in, and who’s out? That’s a question that cuts through so many areas in our lives these days. For instance: How should we treat undocumented aliens? What benefits of U.S. citizenship should they enjoy, and what should they not be entitled to in our legal system, and governmental programs?
Who’s in, and who’s out? Should we be in Afghanistan or out? Should gay and lesbian couples have civilly recognized marriage? Should gay and lesbian unions be on a par with those who live in sacramental marriages? Are they “in” or are they “out”?
Who’s in, and who’s out? Some Catholics are busily concerned with “Who is a real Catholic and who is not?” Some groups of Christians are busily concerned with “Who is going to hell and who’s going to be saved?”
Even though we hear simplistic slogans given by advocates on both sides attempting to answer these questions, the answers are not simple. For instance, if I have a well-reasoned position in favor of what is known as a traditional marriage, am I thereby a hate-filled, gay-bashing homophobic? And if I have thoughtfully reasoned that gay and lesbian couples should be entitled to legal protections and even corporate fringe benefits normally ascribed to heterosexual couples, am I thereby a liberal, gay-loving left-winger?
Who’s in and who’s out in Hollywood? Who is declared to be a loyal American and who is not? What has the fashion industry decreed to be “in” and “out” these days? What sort of vehicles should you purchase in order to be politically correct these days? Being “PC” these days seems to occupy the minds of a lot of people.
The scripture readings we’ve just heard at this Mass deal with who’s in and who’s out. Once again, the response of Jesus is not simple, nor is it immediately evident. Here we find Him declaring, “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” On another occasion we heard Jesus say:
“He who is not with me is against me.” What are we to make of all this?
It’s clear to me that all of our attempts to define the boundaries of God’s Kingdom are futile. The realms in which we meet God are greater than those defined by our human categories. In St. John’s gospel we find Jesus telling us: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) God’s Spirit blows where it will.
You no doubt remember the event in which Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She was, you recall, the woman who had five husbands and the man she was living with at that time was not her husband, a fact with which Jesus challenged her. The dialogue that followed tells us a lot about the human boundaries we attempt to put around God’s kingdom here on earth.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth. [John 4:19-24]
Evidently one does not have to be occupying a particular land in order to enter into God’s kingdom. Nor does one have to be in any particular building. Nevertheless we find religious people making that claim, setting up border check points, mobilizing the orthodox police, requiring customs clearances, and issuing executive orders declaring who is in hell.
The kingdom of God here on earth is not confined within the boundaries of the Roman Catholic Church. The purpose and duty of the Church is to reveal and proclaim its presence, not to claim a monopoly over it. Nor is the kingdom to be found only in the land of Israel. Nor is the kingdom to be determined by the Imperial Self within us. No. The kingdom of God is greater and more extensive than any of our human categories and constructs.
While all of this is true, we must not confuse the meekness of Jesus with disregarding his stern and demanding criteria for citizenship in God’s kingdom. We must remind ourselves that it is Jesus who tells us that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It was Jesus who told us that many are called but few are chosen. “Unless your holiness exceeds that of the religious authorities,” he declared, “you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Citizenship in God’s kingdom is challenging, demanding, and, yes, exclusive. In fact, one must die to selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-willfulness, something that few people succeed in doing. We can no longer be self-determining if we would be truly citizens in God’s kingdom. Surely no one would regard its borders as “porous.”
In response to the lawyer’s question seeking specificity as to just who is our neighbor so he could avoid the demands of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus gave a very challenging response. Everyone is our neighbor, even those we hate and think to be our enemies. We must turn the other cheek when struck. We must be merciful to all. We must be forgiving of all. We must pray for those who persecute us, do good to those who harm us. And, most demanding of all, we must love our enemies! The citizenship exam isn’t easy!
All of which is to say that we enter into God’s realms by entering into our hearts and souls. It’s a journey and a passage within. It requires ruthless and courageous honesty with ourselves. All game playing and all external following of the rules avails us nothing. To think we’re “in” and others are “out” according to those games and rules we play will only bring us to eventually realize that we’re on the outside looking in.