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The Spirit Works Inside and Outside The Group

Mark 9:38-43. 45.47-48

Are you ever surprised by the people God uses in your life to inspire, encourage and guide you? The first reading and Jesus in the Gospel today addresses the fact that no one has a monopoly on the Spirit. The Spirit blows where it wills. God will use all kinds of ways and people to lead us to him and to bring about his kingdom. An act of love and kindness to someone in need is a sign of God’s kingdom whether they are Christian or not. Those who show hospitality to the needy understand the Reign of God. Jesus is present with them even if they don’t know him.

... continued below or listen to our chosen song "Hear What Our God Asks of Us" .

Exclusivity can be a downfall

The Israelites acknowledged that Moses was gifted by God’s Spirit and accepted his leadership, but when the Spirit was revealed through others, their right to prophesy was questioned. The disciples too were unnerved by the movement and power of the Spirit and they were suspicious of the man outside their group who called on the name of Jesus to overcome evil. They tried to stop him. This is our job not yours. Pretty arrogant don’t you think?

Jesus does not divide people into believers and atheists. He tried to broaden the horizons and open the hearts of his disciples by encouraging them to look beyond the parameters they had set for themselves and for him. They had yet to understand that they were part of a community called together by God – and God decides who belongs. And let’s not forget, if God called them to follow Jesus – why not others?

As followers of Christ we cannot ignore the witness that people outside our institutions, our churches, our groups are offering. The same Spirit that works in us works in all who do good by acting justly and loving tenderly. In the gospel, Jesus, whose heart beats for all people, tells us to be open-minded and to recognize the good there is in people and what they do, whoever they are. He is responding to the suspicion that can arise towards those who are not like us. Do we accept that the Spirit is working everywhere?

Mark’s Gospel is dealing with a problem among the disciples who were being very exclusive. We see how an outsider may or can speak for God as Jesus points out. Being exclusive is a strong curse of humanity. It has been the start of wars, rivalries and condemnations down the centuries. Are we prepared to hear something quite different from people who come from a perspective or experience contrary to our own? God's word comes not just from within the institutional church, not just within our own faith community, but even beyond that, from those who are on the so called ‘outside’.

Great moral leaders in our world who come from different religious, cultural and social backgrounds to us have worked for the possibility of peace in our time despite the opposition and setbacks they face. The Gospel invites us to accept that the ‘in group’ may be far larger than we can imagine; that we may find allies in unexpected places. Many non-Christians, or people who don't call themselves Christians, do great work. Such people can be with us, because our cause is the cause of human liberation. Christ came to set the captives free and that is from all forms of oppression from within and from without. For us to be fully alive. Let’s celebrate that wherever we witness and experience it.

God is willing to work through all people, even sinners, even gentiles, even the poor, even children, the maimed, the blind, the deaf, the mute, the enslaved and the outcast.

Welcoming the Spirit without reserve is to be able to say, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, ‘I am a Christian, and a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew.’ It is to accept that ‘no individual can be the exclusive receptacle of boundless truth.’ What Jesus taught his disciples is equally a lesson for us. We cannot fence ourselves off from others who have different ways of following Jesus and of finding God. Today’s gospel reinforces a belief that what we need in the church is less ‘either/or’ and more ‘both/and.’

Listen to Track 2, ‘Hear What Our God Asks of Us’ from the album "Chants For Silence".

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