“That all might be prophets.”
These words, spoken by Moses, reflect the generosity and love of the heart of God. Instead of jealously protecting God’s gift to him, Moses wanted others to share it generously. He understood that the more true prophets who were present in the world meant that the word and love of God would be spread further. Moses knew that God wanted His word to be spread to the ends of the earth and not be limited by other people’s understandings of who was eligible or worthy of being prophets.
We see the same thing happening in the Gospel on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time. John reports to Jesus that there were others outside of their group who were driving out demons. They wouldn’t listen to John, so John wants Jesus to reprimand them. Instead of reprimanding those who are healing, He reprimands John. The response that John gets reflects the expansiveness of God’s gift. “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
Jesus then expands His teaching to redefine the purity codes of his time. Instead of using criteria like being in the right group over being in the right environment, Jesus talks about the kind of purity that will lead to the kingdom of heaven. He warns us about being hypocrites, about giving a bad example, especially to the little ones. He cautions us to take our eyes off of judging other people and to pay more attention to our own choices and behavior. Our constant attention to the faults of others and our judging of their behavior is an excuse not to look at our own patterns and habits of sin. It is easier to blame and judge others than it is to make some different choices in our own lives.
And Jesus talks about making a consequential purification of ourselves. When He uses the metaphor of the body and talks about getting rid of parts of the body, it is meant to get our attention. Cutting off and plucking out are gross images, but I hope we aren’t immune to the message.
Among the many saints that we celebrate in our Church, there are many who served those who were their enemies. Their saintly lives are held up to us as an example of how to purify our own lives. They are the ones who did just what Jesus did. Instead of running and hiding from His enemies, Jesus chose to have dinner in their homes and pray with them. Every chance He received to hate them, He instead chose to love them. Every chance He had to exclude them, He chose to include them.
I think it’s important to recognize that there are saintly people walking the face of the earth right now. They are the people who stay in the places of conflict trying to work out a plan of peace between enemies. These are the leaders in countries who have had civil wars, who then serve on reconciliation councils trying to bring former enemies to reconciliation. These are the people who choose to be poor with the poor, who choose to be vulnerable with the vulnerable and who choose to be homeless with the homeless. These are the people who accompany the 80 million refugees in the world who wander the earth looking for a home.
Let us each make a plan this week to do the purification in our own lives that Jesus is asking of each of us. Instead of plucking out our eyes and cutting off our arms, let’s get rid of anything else that is making us impure. Let us place ourselves face-to-face with those whom we have excluded from our lives. Let us choose to have dinner with them, to pray with them and to accompany them on this journey we all share on this earth. I know that these are lofty and sometimes scary ideas, but if we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, He tells us to be “not just hearers of the Word but doers of the Word as well. “
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.