THE readings this Sunday carry a common theme – that of spiritual inclusivity.
In the First Reading (Num. 11:25-29), Joshua was asking Moses to stop two men – Eldad and Medad – who were reportedly prophesying despite the fact that they were not with the group of elders when the Lord bestowed his Spirit on them. Moses rebuked Joshua, telling him that it would even be ideal if the Lord bestows his Spirit on all people, thereby making everyone a prophet.
In the Second Reading (Jas. 5:1-6), the rich are likewise rebuked for the injustice they do to the poor, withholding the wages of their workers while they themselves live in luxury and pleasure. This, too, was a failure in the pursuit of inclusivity.
Finally, in the gospel (Mk. 9:38-43, 45, 47-48), John reports that he and his companions saw someone driving out demons in the Lord’s name, but since that person does not belong to their group, they tried to stop him. Notice Jesus’ reply, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
There must be no problem associating with people whose faith foundations are similar to ours. God works in different ways. His love and power are not limited to any particular elite group. Faith in Jesus as the Son of God who offered his life as the way to salvation transcends borders and boundaries.
But how about people whose faith is radically different and opposed to ours? How should we deal with them? Should we also embrace them? The answer is yes.
Yes, because the love of God inflames us to embrace people regardless of who they are. After all, was not every man and woman created in the likeness and image of God? Didn’t Jesus die for everyone who is willing to accept his free gift of salvation? Didn’t the Lord himself associate with sinners, teaching us that it is the sick, not the healthy, who need a doctor? Yes, and yes, of course.
Embracing people with wrong faith, however, is not synonymous with embracing their faith. We love the people, not the false teaching they cling to. St. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, provides some instructions in this regard. He writes, “Be eager to present yourself as acceptable to God, a workman who causes no disgrace, imparting the word of truth without deviation. Avoid profane, idle talk, for such people will become more and more godless, and their teaching will spread like gangrene. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands, bearing this inscription, ‘The Lord knows those who are his’; and, ‘Let everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord avoid evil.’ Avoid foolish and ignorant debates, for you know that they breed quarrels. A slave of the Lord should not quarrel, but should be gentle with everyone, able to teach, tolerant, correcting opponents with kindness. It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth, and that they may return to their senses out of the devil’s snare, where they are entrapped by him, for his will” (2 Tim. 2:14-17, 19, 23-26).