26th Sunday Reflection: Inclusivity of the Beloved Community
Inclusivity of the Beloved Community – 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B 2021 – (Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48)
To live is to choose: where do I extend my energy?; what power do I give to outside forces?; what and who do I choose to include and exclude from consideration? What weight do I give to the appeal to authority, knowledge, wisdom, and custom? The Gospel readings given for this day exclude the final verse of the chapter: ‘Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’
‘Inclusiveness’ as a virtue is a concept that stems from the study of sociology. As soon as any person or group is not included, not ‘in the loop’, consulted or mentioned, there is a problem. Every decision must be inclusive because if someone, or some group, is excluded, there will be trouble. Every news broadcast must include the selected ‘Twitter comments of the community’.
In this simple world, nice people are inclusive and nasty people are exclusive. Sadly such non-nuanced ‘virtue’ is often used as window dressing, as a diversion, or even as manipulation.
‘Exclusiveness’, on the other hand, also seems to be a virtue that builds cohesion and unity. Exclusion as a tool within society is deeply programmed into us. Our tribe, nation, church, are defined by the people who belong as opposed to those who do not belong. They become ‘the others’ and because they are not ‘with us,’ they are opposite to us, and so they can easily be seen as opposed to us, as a threat. The others must be kept out; kept in place, they must be controlled, excluded from power, made subject to us and, if necessary, they must be eliminated.
We can see this demonising of others in the attitude that only ‘we’ are OK; we are saved; we are orthodox. We can see it in the way countries are run, in the way churches are run, or how some club or association is run; there must be careful ‘screening’ of who joins the residents’ association lest the area’s value is undermined.
We see it at work in today’s gospel: someone was doing the same things as the disciples, but because the person was not inside the group, he was a threat; therefore he had to be stopped.
The reply of Jesus clearly shocked them: ‘he who is not against us is for us’. It shocked the first followers to the extent that we see it reversed in Matthew’s gospel to become, ‘He who is not with me is against me!’
Matthews’ Jewish community wanted a neat little world where people ‘knew where they stood’ and if they were not with Jesus, then they must be against him. Nice neat and safe little boxes. Matthew’s understanding is all too human. And, the church has sadly been closer to Matthew than to the message of Mark: we are very good at noting who does not belong, who should be excluded from communion, who is to be seen as a threat.
Equally, we have been very good at dividing up the Body of Christ into exclusivist sections: clergy and lay; those with ‘authority’, and those who need to be led. An inclusive love that sees each Christian, indeed each human, as that beloved child of God, as someone called by God to participate in the growth of the kingdom, seems rather utopian.
Yet, it is just such a ‘community of love’, in assembly as the Beloved Community, that we, as the church, are called to proclaim in our divided world. Today’s gospel calls all of us to examine our behaviour. Does it reflect inclusive love: anyone who is not against us is with us; or, is it that all too human exclusivist vision: anyone who is not with us is against us?
Let us not be afraid to renounce the things of exclusivity that give us false identity and security; meaningless customs and rituals that have sprung up over the centuries; seeking the smells and bells of entertainment rather than the true worship of God; the exclusive patronage of the rich and powerful, the clever and the prestigious, those who proclaim their expertise and wisdom. Let us model ourselves after the humble and poor Christ that we meet in the Eucharist.
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