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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Are More United Than Divided
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 30, 2012
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There’s an old joke that goes, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who divide people into groups and those who don’t.” This reflects the number of other statements that begin the same way. While dividing people and groups into “us vs. them” seems to be a very human activity, we always need to remember that our ways are not God’s ways and that while we might exclude those who do not share our beliefs, God’s nature is always inclusive.

At some point in most religious movements, part of embracing the core beliefs of the movement involves believers then setting themselves apart from those who don’t share those beliefs. At its worst, this leads to the kinds of war and other violence that continue to tear apart so many places in our world today. Even in the best of situations, with respect and an openness to dialogue on all sides, there are no easy answers to the question of what to do with varying and, at times, opposing beliefs. We find it difficult to believe that we’re right without saying that someone else is wrong.

Our first reading from the book of Numbers shows us Moses in one of his better moments. He often struggled with the stubbornness of the Israelites and the ambitions of Aaron and Miriam, his brother and sister. But here, when Joshua wants to silence two people outside the camp who are prophesying, Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” This demonstrates a remarkable and graceful generosity of spirit on the part of the great leader.

Similarly in the Gospel, James and John object to someone who is healing in Jesus’s name but isn’t one of the Twelve or even apparently in the wider group of disciples. Jesus tells them, “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.” When we’re tempted to dismiss a religious group for being “not like us” or when we become a little too triumphalist in our conviction that Catholicism is the one true faith, we need to step back and look at the intentions of others, as well as the good that they might be doing in the world.

The glory of the Catholic Church is not diminished by the sincere belief of those who hold to other faiths. The fact that we believe that we have the fullest possible manifestation of God’s grace in no way precludes God from reaching out to and saving those who believe differently. The wideness of God’s mercy and the reach of his saving hand is something that none of us can truly comprehend.

In October 2011, Pope Benedict XVI invited the leaders of all the world’s religions, as well as several prominent thinkers with no religious affiliation to join him in Assisi for the twenty-fifth anniversary of a similar gathering called together by John Paul II. Their prayers and speeches on that day called attention to the many common concerns of all God’s people: peace, the environment, an end to poverty. They reminded us once again that, no matter what our doctrines and beliefs, there is more that unites us than divides us. It’s good to take time to remember this, not only on a cosmic or global scale, but with the other people in our everyday lives.


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Matthew: Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the "tax farmers" got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as "publicans," were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners" (see Matthew 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers. 
<p>Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many" tax collectors and "those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important. </p><p>No other particular incidents about Matthew are found in the New Testament.</p> American Catholic Blog The most appealing invitation to embrace the religious life is the witness of our own lives, the spirit in which we react to our divine calling, the completeness of our dedication, the generosity and cheerfulness of our service to God, the love we have for one another, the apostolic zeal with which we witness to Christ’s love for the poorest of the poor.

 
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