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Who’s Inside Your Tent?

October 3, 2021

A reflection for the 26th Sunday, Ordinary Time, B. The readings are Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6 and Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48.

Today is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It is a day that has been observed by the Catholic Church for 107 years, so it’s clear that for a long time refugees have been of great concern for the Church. But people who work with refugees, especially people in the church who work with refugees, say that the refugee crisis today is worse than it has ever been. Today there are 100 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. These are people who are actually living in camps. And what’s different about today, as opposed to other times when we’ve had refugee crises, like, for example, after the second world war, is the length of time that people are in a refugee camp. It is very common today for someone to be born in a refugee camp, to grow up in that same refugee camp and to become an adult in that refugee camp. The average stay at a refugee camp today is 20 years. It is a crisis and some would argue that it is the crisis of our day. There are so many other crises; we’re in a climate crisis, there’s a pandemic, but none are as bad as this refugee crisis, which is made worse by all the other crises: the climate crisis and the pandemic and every other political crisis that is happening around the world. And it is a crisis that affects us, even if only indirectly. But I think it’s a crisis that we can affect, maybe just by simply changing our attitudes.

In the message that Pope Francis wrote for today, he invites us to change our attitude and to expand our notion of what it means to be ‘we’: To not be thinking about people as ‘other’ but to be thinking about who is ‘we’.

That’s exactly what the readings today are about.

Let me give you a little bit of background to the first reading. Moses complains to God, “There are too many people. I can’t take care of all these people. I need help.” So God says to him, “Select seventy men as elders so that they can help you.” He tells Moses that once he’s selected them to bring them to the tent – so the tent was the place where God met with Moses face to face – and then God would take some of the spirit that was in Moses and impart them on these 70 elders so then they could help him. So Moses selects the elders, brings them into the tent and this is the reading today: They’re in the tent, God bestows upon them the spirit and they begin to prophesy. But there were these two guys, Eldad and Medad who had been selected as elders but, I don’t know, they slept in or they didn’t get the email or something, and so they didn’t go to the tent that day. But still they received the spirit and they begin to prophesy in the camp outside of the tent. And Joshua, who’s Moses assistant, complains, “Stop them. They’re prophesying outside of the tent.” And Moses says, “Would that everyone be a prophet; that everyone would receive the spirit!” They’re not ‘other’; they are ‘we’. They might be physically outside of the tent but they are in the tent. Don’t think of them as outsiders as ‘other’ think of them as ‘we’.

In the second reading, James is very critical of rich people but he’s not critical of them because they are rich; he’s critical of them because they put their wealth before others and before God. So he’s really being critical of corruption, of entitlement and of injustice. Actually maybe, he’s being critical of the fact that they are so consumed with themselves, with what they possess, with all the great things that they have, that they’re not even aware of the other people that are different from them; the workers, the servants, the harvesters, the slaves. And I think that what James is saying to them is that if they could change their attitude and stop seeing those people as ‘other’ and start seeing them as part of the family, as ‘we’, it would actually change their behavior – and if they don’t change their behavior then miseries are going to come upon them! “Don’t see them as ‘other’ but see them as ‘we’; as being inside the tent with us.”

In the gospel we have a very similar situation as in the first reading. The disciples are jealous because some guy, who is not one of them – he’s not a disciple, he’s not a follower of Christ, with their little group – is out there casting out demons in the name of Jesus Christ and he’s doing it successfully. It’s important to note that if you read the beginning of the chapter the disciples had been trying to cast out a demon from a young man and they couldn’t do it. But then this other guy – we don’t even know who he is or where he came from – is casting out demons so they’re jealous. And they complain to Jesus. And Jesus says to them, “If he’s not against us, he is with us.” He’s not outside of the tent; he is inside the tent. He is not ‘other’; he is ‘we’. Don’t see him as ‘other’; see him as ‘we’, as part of the family.

Who is the ‘other’ in your life? Today we’re being asked to remember and pray for migrants and refugees but I think that for us that’s easy. Most of us are immigrants. Some of you came to this country as refugees. It’s easy for us to be welcoming of migrants. But they’re not the only ones who we see as ‘other’: the homeless, people with disabilities; they’re different than us and we’re not sure how to deal with them; young people: you know those rowdy youth at the coffee shop; the elderly; people who are different than us; people who are transgendered or gay; the unwed teenage mother; the indigenous person’ the traditional Catholics or the liberal Catholics, those who love Pope Francis or those who hate him; the Conservatives, the Liberals, Republicans or Democrats; people who have different ideas than us; people who think that it’s okay to not wear a mask or that or that we should be wearing masks all the time; people who are afraid of being vaccinated, people who think that vaccines are going to be the solution to all our problems; non-Catholics, Muslims; people who disagree with us; people who’ve hurt us… Who is the ‘other’? Who is that group of people that you make assumptions about? That you jump to conclusions about based on what you heard in the news?

Today we’re being asked to stop seeing them as ‘other’ and to start seeing them as ‘we’; not as outsiders but as insiders’; those who are in the tent with us as part of our family. And we’re being asked not just to change our attitudes, not just to see them differently, but to behave differently. What can we do to welcome them, to make them feel like they’re included, like they are in the tent? What more do we have to do to welcome those who are different, to include them, to engage with them, to get to know them so that we can love them?

Jesus adds one more thing. At the end of the Gospel he says that if you do anything that causes you to sin, cut it out; stop doing it. Seeing people as ‘other’ and making assumptions about them might not necessarily be sin but it can lead us to sin. And so today I ask you to please cut it out. Stop doing it. Every time you catch yourself making assumptions about a group of people because you heard something in the news or jumping to conclusions about that person, stop. Cut it out. Start changing your heart.

That, I think, is the biggest crisis of our day: The fact that we are so divided and we see people and groups of people as ‘other’ and as different; we jump to conclusions about them and we don’t see them as ‘we’.

Last night our regional bishop was at our parish to officially install our pastor and he reminded us that one of the reasons why we gather for Mass is because of “communion”. What does it mean to be a communion? What does it mean to be in communion? And not just with those that are here, that we’re comfortable with in our tent; we’re called to be in communion with those that are outside of the tent, the ‘other’: To see them as ‘we’.

So, next time you approach the altar to receive Communion, I invite you to start thinking about what it really means to be “a communion”; to start seeing others not as ‘other’, as different, as outsiders, as being outside of the tent, but start seeing them and treating them as being inside the tent; not as ‘other’ but as ‘we’.

From → English

One Comment
  1. Mr. Naeem Masih permalink

    The Most Respected Deacon Pedro.

    May God be with you always. Amen

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