In this excellent homily for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly shows us what true tolerance, as Jesus teaches it, looks like.
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Second Reading: James 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
I come from a country that prides itself on being very tolerant of all different nations, people, and mostly the poor and needy who came from Europe, the outcasts, and became immigrants to the United States and are largely responsible for building the country and making it what it is today.
It would give the impression that in the United States we’re all tolerant. But we’re not. In fact, someone described the United States not so much a mixture of all kinds of things, but sort of different lumps in one soup. When we bump up against each other we have our own problems.
And I suppose one of the virtues of the United States is that everybody knows those problems, because in the United States everybody talks about them –the problems with race and religion and difference and difficulties and this and that — the arguments seem endless.
One of my… when I visited Ireland for the first time as a young man, one of the things that struck me was anything that’s really important is never discussed openly. It’s sort of, kind of, done privately and talked about privately.
The reason I go through this right now is because this is a very important lesson today: Jesus is saying we must be tolerant.
Usually tolerance means, you know, well, I tolerate that person. That you don’t have any association with them. You’re not going to do him any harm. You accept his beliefs are different from yours, but you’re not going to make a big deal out of it. And this is called a tolerant person: you’re patient with people.
This is all very condescending, when you think about it. I mean, I would not like to be thought of as someone someone had to be tolerant of his presence, or tolerant of his being with you. I’m not (inaudible), thank you very much for accepting me, you’re such wonderful people and very patient.
This is not the way Jesus is going to save the world, right?
When Jesus means tolerance, he means something else. What he means by tolerance is a sympathy, a deep sympathy and understanding of the person that you are accepting. Even though his beliefs and his way of acting is very different from yours, you approach him with sympathy, with understanding, with trying to deepen your understanding of not only him but the culture and the kind of experience and environment he came from.
When Jesus says to John…
John comes up to him, if you notice — John is the Gospel writer — John comes up to Jesus and he says to him, “Lord, we found somebody using your name, the name of the Messiah, to cast out demons, and we told him not to do it. You must tell him not to do it.”
Well, you can understand John, because they’d just said that Jesus was the Messiah. And that means they’re on the side of the angels, they’re on the side of God, and now they’re going to march through these men and whoever comes to follow them and they’re going to be the special people of God. They’re going to be better than everybody else. They’re going to be higher than everybody else. And the difficulties that obsess them about being a weak, puny little nation is no longer going to be true, because they’re going to drive those Romans out of here and everybody will know that God is the mighty powerful God.
Jesus has no time for this sort of thinking. Because Jesus didn’t come just to save John and a few fellows up there walking around in Palestine. Jesus came to heal the world. And you don’t heal it by creating another group of people that are going to be intolerant of everybody else, or they will tolerate them until they are accepted, until we allow them to come in.
There’s a lot of talk about evangelisation these days. And it’s a valid talk because the councils have said that one of the great things that Catholics can do is to evangelise. To evangelise.
Now evangelise does not mean to make converts. Evangelisation means to preach the word of God, the presence of God, the loveliness of the gift of his Son. To preach it maybe more often not by words as a weapon against other groups, but by our lives.
We are supposed to show in our sympathy, our understanding of the differences of other people and the willingness to go through that and learn from that and find out who they really are. And that difference turns to an understanding that I have been enriched by this person’s difference. Not condescendingly accepting it as different, but if I listen to him long enough I will understand more about what I believe in.
This is real evangelisation: the constant conversion of the evangelist. And that’s why evangelists speak from the rooftops.
There’s an old saying about an evangelist who was a very mighty preacher and he used to go into the square in this town and large crowds would be around him and large crowds would applaud him because he spoke so well.
But as time passed, they got a little tired of him, as people do, and they began going away. And pretty soon, there he is in the village square all by himself preaching the sermon.
And this young man walked up to him and he said, “You know, nobody is listening. Why are you standing here preaching?”
And he looks at the little boy, the little fellow, and he says to him, “I once used to preach to people and now I’m preaching to myself.”
Listen to that now: “And now I am preaching to myself.” Because what he is doing is saying that the word of God is for everyone. The word of God is for all of us. But the word of God must be first of all buried deeply in our own heart. And that’s what evangelisation means. That we would take the things that we hear on Sunday very seriously.
And the first lesson that Jesus teaches today is the world belongs to God, everybody in it belongs to God, and Jesus has come to reach out and to tell us and show us how to love. Because only through love will God be able to recover what he has lost through our human selfishness and sin.
Today, Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not prevent people from talking about the good. Do not prevent people from speaking about God, about his mercy, about his compassion, about his kindness. It is not for you to prevent that. You should welcome him as God welcomes him. You should welcome it as a child welcomes faith. And you should encourage them. And you should always encourage them, because they too are the disciples of God. They might represent different forms of religion, different forms of work, different forms of philosophy, but they are all the children of God.”
Then what’s the difference? There is a mighty difference. Jesus hopes his disciples will understand that the reason for preaching is love. And the reason for preaching love is that we might understand ourselves and we might understand the differences of others and their different styles, so that we too can say we are enriched by it all, for ultimately we all pursue the same end. And the same end, as you all know, is “Under heaven, one God; and under God, one people.”
And with one people we have attained what God himself had intended for us: no more divisions, no more breakdowns, but a deep understanding that we move together in compassion, forgiveness, understanding, and these are the elements that will heal the world.
Not how big your organisation is or what kind of arguments you’re going to win. You know there’s an old saying, “He who wins an argument, loses a friend.” There’s no place for arguing religion.
There is a place for trying mutually, out of respect, to enter into the understanding of the other, knowing that this is where Jesus will be found, for he is as present in them as he is in us.
This is really what Benedict, Pope Benedict, is trying to say. He’s saying, “Yes, let us meet. Let us meet with our differences. Let us come together to the table and let us reason with each other.”
He doesn’t say, “Let us convince each other of what the truths are.” Let us reason together. And when we come, let us show respect for each other. And when we hear the differences of the other expressed, we must open our hearts and accept the enrichment of a different way of seeing things, a different understanding that, once you put your faith in it, you understand that this too is part of your faith.
Benedict is a man who believes in peace. He believes, though, it will not be easy. There will be many mistakes and little arguments and things to settle and all the rest of it. But he believes that the human heart, if it opens itself, and the human mind, if it opens itself, that it will discover that together we are all indeed brothers and sisters.
There’s two Chinese sayings that sum up everything I was trying to say. The first one is very common that you know is: “Under heaven, one family.” The other one is also very, very familiar in the Chinese world: “Within the four seas,” meaning the whole world, “within the four seas, all men are brothers and sisters.”
So, when we evangelise, what we do is we evangelise ourselves, we live the true incarnation of God’s love in our own lives, and we share that with all the people who come to us.
This is the beginning not only of faith, it’s the beginning of hope and joy.
And it is up to each one of us to make this commitment, for Jesus says: “Even if you give a cup of water in my name, you will receive a prophet’s reward.”
And a prophet’s reward is to speak for God and achieve everlasting life.