The question that needs to be repeatedly asked is this: “Did God send His Son into our world for only a few… or for all?” We all know the answer to that question. The answer is, however, not too well lived out… which is why we need to keep coming back here every Sunday.
Allow me here to bring to mind a way of seeing The Big Picture. One view is that the Son of God came to us, died, and rose from the dead in order to forgive our sins and open for us the way to heaven so that if we live a good life our souls will, after we die, go to heaven. Those who do not will live in hell. In this version Christian hope is thereby focused on getting out of this world unscathed. And it is true – God is looking for the salvation of our souls.
However, that view does not focus on the mission of Jesus’ kingdom ministry and the fact that in Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection He established God’s kingdom here on earth guided by the Holy Spirit He handed over to us as He died on the Cross. Our mission therefore is not simply to save our own souls. Jesus calls us to that mission and though His Holy Spirit empowers us to renew the whole of creation. This orientation is not directed toward getting out the world He gave us but rather is focused on bringing heaven to earth. St. John famously tells us: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Bear in mind that Jesus taught us His prayer in which we ask our Father to help us live in His kingdom here on earth and to realize it (make it real) here on earth as it is in heaven. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, He gives us the power to accomplish that mission. If we’re looking to experience God’s presence only after we die then we will miss experiencing His presence in our daily work and in our daily lives here on earth. Do we have a reason to transform our society? We certainly do! God wants us to join with Him in redeeming and recreating the world in which He has placed us.
If that is true, then who’s in, and who’s out? That’s a question that cuts through so many areas in our lives these days. For instance: How should we treat undocumented aliens? What benefits of U.S. citizenship should they enjoy, and what should they not be entitled to in our legal system, and governmental programs? How should we treat non-believers? Recall how Jesus related to the lawyer who attempted to trick Him up with the question: “And just who is my neighbor?” And then there was Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well along with the story of the Good Samaritan. Time after time Jesus showed His compassion and concern for so-called “outsiders.”
Who’s in, and who’s out is therefore not simply a political question like whether we should be in Afghanistan or out. Or who is entitled to welfare benefits (to cite only a couple of examples in the deluge of politics in which we are presently drowning)?
More importantly for us as followers of Christ we need to examine whether we have an exclusive mentality or an inclusive mentality. Who’s in, and who’s out? Some Catholics are busily concerned with “Who is a real Catholic and who is not?” Some groups of Christians are busily concerned with “Who is going to hell and who’s going to be saved?” In looking for answers those and similar questions, do we search within an otherworldly background on within a Kingdom background?
In Mark’s Gospel account (Mk 9:38-43), the apostles saw a man “casting out demons in Jesus’s name” and told the man to stop “because he does not follow us.” What was the problem here? The apostles were being territorial. They were trying to protect their “greatness” in the kingdom! After all, Jesus had given them the power to work such miracles. The man they saw was not one of the twelve. He was not a part of their company and so they thought he must not be allowed to work in Jesus’ name! Never mind that the man could only do such work because Jesus allowed him to, or that Jesus had given such powers to more than just The Twelve. The fact is the Twelve had recently failed to cast out a demon. Now, they come across someone else doing what they could not do! Truly, pride and jealousy are deceptive and insidious traits! Both are seen here as we study the reaction and the words of the apostles.
What Jesus is telling His disciples is that even though the man was not in the immediate company of Himself and the twelve, the man’s work was consistent with Jesus’ authority and purposes in establishing God’s kingdom. The man was on their side because he was on Jesus’ side. He was doing the work of God by the authority of Jesus. He should have been encouraged, not hindered. “Anyone,” He told them, “who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.”
We should be willing to endorse and encourage every person who is walking in the truth of Christ, and we must refrain from all elements of pride and jealousy which choke out mutual concern and caring for each other. We must be careful to avoid pride and jealousy in the kingdom of God. All humble service to others in the name of Christ will be rewarded.
Jesus was working not just to get us into heaven after we die, but was likewise working to bring the life of heaven here on earth. God’s future world has entered our present world in Jesus Christ. His exorcisms, forgiveness, healings, His confrontation with evil, and His resurrection from the dead evidence the present in-breaking of God’s purposes in creating us in the first place. God’s will in re-creating our world cannot be overcome. St. John therefore begins his Gospel of Jesus Christ with these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
With stupendous compassion and love, God has come to us anew in order to bring to light the world He made recreate what human darkness and sin had disfigured. Heaven has come to earth and God has given His sons and daughters the dignity and glory to work with Him in establishing His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. All are invited. None are excluded.
It is with that vision, with working to make God’s kingdom real in our real-world living, in all of our relationships with others that we should live out our faith.