What Matters Most: Mission, Believing, Belonging?

Reflection for the 26th Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London 


The people of Israel who were on their way to the Promised Land had clear ideas about God’s holiness. They have camped in the valley far from the mountain where they believe God dwelt.

Halfway between the camp and the mountain they build a special tent – a place of meeting between God and Moses their leader. Anyone who strayed to the mountain was put to death for trespassing into God’s holy territory.

Similarly, they believed that God would not trespass into their own unholy human domain. The lines were clearly drawn. But, as we read in our First Reading this Sunday, on the day they were consecrating seventy elders to assist Moses in the work of God, it dawned on them that God cannot be limited.

The seventy elders had been selected beforehand and were to present themselves in the Tent of Meeting where the Lord would impose on them some of the spirit that was in Moses.

However, on the appointed day, they all turned up with the exception of two; Eldad and Medad. Did they oversleep? Were they drunk? Or did they simply forget? It doesn’t matter. The important thing is that when the spirit of the Lord descended on the sixty-eight men in the Tent of Meeting, it also descended on these two who were still in the camp. And they began to prophesy just as the other sixty-eight in the Tent.

The people could not come to terms with God crossing the lines that were so neatly drawn in their minds regarding where God could operate.

So, led by Joshua, they approached Moses to complain that he should stop the two men. Perhaps God has made a mistake. Perhaps they were angry that the two men did not follow due process to receive the spirit. It could as well be that jealousy is at work as Moses implied in his response to them: “Are you jealous for my sake? How I wish all God’s people were prophets and that God would put his Spirit on them all!”

Narrow-minded people like Joshua and his group abound among God’s people. In the Gospel, we see them in the disciples who tried to stop a man who was healing in Jesus’ name because he did not belong to their group.

They want to stop him, not because he was doing wrong but because according to their poor selfish theology, God should limit himself to the “the privileged chosen few”. But Jesus the new Moses was at hand to correct them: “Do not stop him…. Whoever is not against us is for us”. In other words, what matters is getting God’s job done not the pettiness of who is in and who is out.

Perhaps we don’t see God’s hand at work in our world today because we look in the wrong places. If we look beyond the Tent of Meeting, beyond those who belong to our group, we may be surprised at how much God’s hand is actively at work in our world today as it has always been.

The Salvation Army for instance has neither the Creed nor the Sacraments but they are in every nook and cranny of the world today providing care, love and support.

During the many natural and man-made catastrophes of our world, the hand of God comes to work in the spontaneous solidarity of men and women across religious and denominational divides, intervening decisively to alleviate suffering.

Jesus declared that: “If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, he most certainly will not lose his reward.” Irrespective of their own religions affiliations, many have contributed much more than a cup of water today to Christian charities and causes and through these to the needy.

St John, in his First Letter, says very bluntly: “Wherever there is a caring love there is God.” God’s work can therefore be advanced through people of all kinds who will surely not lose their reward. We labour in vain to contain the spirit of God.

While we Christians believe that the Church is God’s special way of revealing Himself to the world, Catholics further lays claim to the full deposit of the faith while the evangelical Christians believe that only those who are “born again” as they understand it would be saved.

Rival groups exist even within the same church and a good deal of energy is spent in these rivalries at the detriment of the work of God. Divide and rule has always been an effective tool that can be used to weaken groups and the enemy uses this effectively to frustrate God’s work through rousing of petty jealousies and rivalries.

The work of the Lord suffered as Saul and David were engulfed in rivalry. Following the victory of Israel in battle over the Philistines, the women had sung “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands”. Saul burnt with envy and jealousy and was determined to bring David down even though David had fought on his side.

Similarly, genuine people including priests and religious with gifts to advance the work of God have been frustrated by their Bishops and Religious Superiors; young priests with creative ideas have been frustrated by their Parish Priests; great initiatives have been stalled in Church bureaucracies, all because of petty jealousies.

As we pointed out last Sunday, there is a warped mentality that others must go down for us to go up. Thus, while the church understandably has many enemies, the irony remains that the church could be its own worst enemy.

Moses and Jesus saw that the mission is what matters; bringing God’s love to the world. And what could be more liberating and confirming of God’s infinite generosity and will than “that all men be saved” (1Tim. 2:4).

We pray that God may grant us the humility and common sense to acknowledge and welcome Him wherever and through whomsoever He chooses to make Himself and His love known in our world today.

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