Many, many years ago, when I was a young boy….say about 5 or 6 years of age, Saturday afternoons used to be very special for us kids! Because if we had been good to our parents during the week, and made sure that we ate our vegetables at meals, we would sometimes be rewarded by being allowed to go to The Pictures!
In Australia, that is what we call the Cinema! We would look forward to watching many Walt Disney’s cartoons of Bugs Bunny, and Donald Duck, and funny movies like Abbot and Costello and Superman! It was so good! And it was all in Black and White, on a small screen! We used to think that we were so lucky, and we were! But then as the years moved on, Television arrived, and then Movies and cartoons used in living Colour!!!!!! Then as time went on, there came the stunning vision of IMAX – SURROUND SOUND in 3D!!!!! This was an absolutely amazing change from the narrow box screen at the Picture shows when I was a kid! Now, it is the all-embracing view and experience of Cinerama -IMAX-3D!!! We actually feel and sense, and see ourselves in the Movie!
By illustration, let’s imagine that our human view of the world is the black and white films of the Picture show, years back, and God’s view of the world is CINERAMA-IMAX-3D-SURROUND SOUND PLUS! We are so often limited in our understanding of God’s plan and desired involvement with us, because of our tunnel vision! Over the millennia, the Angel of the Lord, has opened our minds to see the bigger picture, but to be within the bigger picture!
Let’s look at the first reading today from the Book of Numbers 11:25-29. We see something absolutely astonishing, which speaks about the smaller picture as seen by us, and the bigger picture interpreted by one of the Lord’s Prophets!
Within a moment of mystical experience, the Spirit of the Lord God having rested on Moses, moved onto the seventy elders, and they began to speak the Word of the Lord immediately! It seems that two other men who were not with this larger group, were back in the camp, also received an outpouring of the same Spirit, and began to speak the Word of the Lord! To the amazement and concern of a young man in the camp, he rushed off to tell Moses and Joshua of this so called ‘unofficial outpouring of the Spirit’ on Eldad and Medad! And what was Moses going to do about it? (Let’s pause here and be curious; question? Could these two names give us a deeper understanding of those who are ready to receive an outpouring of the Lord’s Spirit? The short answer is, YES!) (Eldad means: beloved of God, Medad means: beloved one, or exemplary LOVER!) So, it seems that for a person to be a Biblical Prophet, these two meanings in the names of Eldad and Medad, give us an important clue as to the kind of inner disposition within the human spirit which can be open to an outpouring of the Spirit! Food for thought!
The same goes for us! Moses set them straight in their thinking, and opened their minds, by letting them see the bigger picture which the Lord God had painted for them through this incident……’just imagine, Moses said, that if all the people had an outpouring of the Spirit?’ Moses was not perturbed nor upset that Eldad and Medad had received an outpouring of the Spirit, even though they had not been formed like the 70 elders under the Mantle of Moses! The response of Moses to this issue at hand, speaks volumes of the maturity of Moses as a Biblical Prophet and the IMAX Vision that he had of God’s work. Let’s hang on to this issue when we take a look at the Gospel for today; it will be very important for us to have this understanding under our belts, as we see Jesus responding to the questions of his Disciples about something similar.
In this weekend’s Gospel, the disciples are concerned, because a stranger is claiming to be acting in the name of Jesus! Jesus is not upset nor disturbed by this; he reminds his disciples, as Jesus reminds us today, that anyone who lives and acts in a Christ-like way, is living in the way that God wants. Not only those who bear the name Christian, but anyone of good will can reflect the goodness of God to others. Now isn’t that something? We really need to understand, own and appreciate that fact! As we saw in the first reading today, the two men in the Camp who received an outpouring of the Spirit, were not part of the official graduating class of the 70! And let’s remember how Moses responded to this fact! He did not react to it! He responded to it! Jesus does the same in this case in the Gospel today. Now, this is real food for thought for us, and we need to digest it fully!
Nearly every Sunday morning my sister and I watch a BBC 1 Programme called, Song of Praise. It is a half hour segment, and is taken from a different Church in the British Isles each week. It is a mixture of Protestant and Catholic Congregations. I must confess a weakness in my thoughts to you about this Programme. When it is a Catholic Church, I am a little happier, than when it is in a Protestant Church. As soon as the programme starts, I automatically look for the tell-tale signs of the Sanctuary Lamp, Tabernacle and Stations of the Cross to see if it is one of ours! Now, I put that down to my genetic heritage, because my immediate ancestors put their lives, literally on the chopping block in order to protect the Catholic Church against Cromwell, and his henchmen! I own that realisation, but these readings for this Sunday remind me, through this clarion call, that the Lord works also through those people and Ministers who do not belong to the Catholic Denomination. Deep inside me, I am completely overwhelmed with the goodness, the love and forgiveness being lived by these Christ like people; in truth the Lord is present in them too! I believe that I have a clinging touch of arrogance inside me to say, ‘the Lord is present in them too!’ Over time that must be eliminated from my mind! WORK IN PROGRESS!
Therefore, one special message contained in the Gospel today, is that we must be ‘open minded’ and be free from bigotry in our attitudes and actions. The bigot or extremist, is the last one to see what is happening. It is a form of blindness, and it is very destructive! We see it today, on our Television World News! It is often most evident under the appearance of Religion. It is essential, that if we call ourselves Christians, we must have an open mind and heart to all others who follow Jesus. There is a great difference between unity and uniformity. We can be very united with members of other Christian Churches, and we can worship in different ways, or have different ways of seeing and understanding things; we belong to a broad Church, a Catholic (Universal) Church. However, this does not start and finish within the entire Christian Church! If we thought that, we are being very narrow minded, just like looking at the Cinema screen in the 1950’s.
We need to be IMAX people, in 3D, who due to our massive communications networks throughout the world, we can get real glimpses of God’s almighty influence, not only in the World religions who have as their core teaching, the Golden Rule, but we in many other religions too. This is not about saying that we are better than others because we are Christians, but rather being mindful that our God has unveiled His love and purposes for us in many and varied ways…..who are we to judge! By their fruits, you will know them.
How can we break down the barriers of misunderstandings between Religions? Well, it is a bit like striving and working towards Reconciliation between different races and cultures of people. Before reconciliation, comes conciliation, which means ‘meeting’. If we do not want to really talk and listen to people from other religions and cultures, we will never get near reconciliation or common understanding. We must want to understand other Religions…not in a window dressing fashion, but through solid listening, and asking good and respectful questions without any preconceived ideas that they are wrong and we are right. Unfortunately, there are extremists in all Religions, and Christianity has their fair share of them too. One only has to check out FACEBOOK to see some of the oddest, conservative and narrow minded views about God, and His Church! So many, many people in the world today think that some Catholics have all the answers, all the proper doctrines, and it is all set in concrete! What strikes me with some of these people, is that they are not SERVICE CENTERED, as Eucharistic Foot washers of the Lord! They often present as morbid people, who lack joy, and tend to appear like the Pharisees in the Gospel, who like to be greeted with special titles, and dress with longer tassels and phylacteries, thinking that this is all impressive and righteous.
Then on the other side of that ultra conservative extremism, we have the secularisation and demythologisation where both the baby and bath water have been tossed out! Jesus did not come to bring us a new Religion; He came to show us the way to the Father, and the Way is a mystical experience founded deeply within the Heart of Love, and the Cross. This way to the Father is the antithesis of secularism, but intensely imbedded within the human experience of life and all its features! Look at the stir that our fantastic Pope is creating in the world today, because of his humane approach to the Gospel, and the living out of its message? His freshness of approach, has sent shivers down the spines of many people who think that they KNOW IT ALL! And control God!
The Gospel today puts before us a challenge; do we see the importance of learning about the culture and spiritual ways of our Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as the culture and customs of our Hindu, Buddhists etc., who live in our streets, suburbs and cities? What about other Christian Religions; are we interested enough to go to Ecumenical Services, and pray with our sisters and brothers from other Churches or attend Lectures which will educate us about them? We hope that the answer is YES to both questions. There is only one drawback….”I couldn’t be bothered…” Lethargy!!!!!!!
Finally, hospitality is one of the fruits of open mindedness and welcoming people who come to our Parish Churches. It is so good to have a teams of ‘welcomers’ at Parishes; there is absolutely no substitute for the personal way, in which people are welcomed, not only with the giving of a Parish Bulletin, but the smile that goes with it. It is a tremendous sign to newcomers, and regulars, of the unique spirit of hospitality in our communities. As the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote: HEB 13:2 ‘Do not neglect hospitality, for through it, some have unknowingly entertained angels.’
Finally, in today’s Gospel, we see the absolute sanctity of faith = insight which is fragile, and needs to grow unhindered by people who would like to destroy it! The severity in which Our Lord speaks about this evil intervention from people, who are set upon destroying that sacred fiber between God and His people, are given a severe warning! The method that Jesus uses in speaking about those who would destroy the faith of another, was a typical rabbinical form of shock tactics to get the message over! These shock tactics underline the absolute integrity and sanctity of the gift of faith. This warning is for all times and seasons, it is appropriate for all millennia……it is one of the gravest violations against humanity and God! Faith, as small as a Mustard seed, can grow in a large tree, where the birds of the air can nestle in its branches…….