Today’s Readings (text):
- 1st Kings 19:16, 19-21
- Ps 16
- Galatians 5:1, 13-18 (RCL* -25)
- Luke 9:51-62
We know when Jesus was alive, lots of people claimed to be exorcists. They all thought they could cast out demons. In today’s gospel passage, we have a story of Jesus, James, and John coming across some of these people, on their way to Jerusalem through Samaria. These people, we are told, refused to welcome Jesus, probably seeing him as some sort of competitor.
Knowing what they did about Jesus’ power, James and John wanted to bring down the wrath of God on these men, who treated our Lord so badly, disrespecting his beliefs. But Jesus told them they should not do that and instead moved on to the next town.
The prevailing message here is one of tolerance. Perhaps no one preached a stronger tolerance message, with Jesus’ teachings, than John Wesley, who founded the United Methodist Church. Mr Wesley’s brother left his church to join the Roman Catholic church, and Mr Wesley, famously, said to him, “Whether in this church or in that I care not. You may be saved in either or damned in either…”
We see above, John Wesley being tolerant of Catholicism. Christians should take a lesson from this, since it is so clearly what our Lord taught. Lutherans should be tolerant of Catholics, Baptists of Pentecostals, and so on and so forth. What matters is our love for the Lord. In fact, John Wesley made the call to prayer in the United Methodist Church something akin to that: Let all who love the Lord come here.
But why stop there? Jesus didn’t. In fact, he surely knew that these other exorcists were preaching a false creed. Yet, he would not allow them to be eliminated. What about Muslims? Or, for that matter, what about Buddhists or atheists?
God works in mysterious ways, you know, and all we really know is that we know absolutely nothing about the truth — certainly, our minds are way too small to understand even a speck of what God had in mind when he created us. I’m sure God can figure out a way to work through atheists and Muslims, as well as Christians. Out of love for all of God’s children, even if he gave them life in a Muslim or atheist tradition and created them in that way, we should not strike them down because of their beliefs.
Rather, let us recall the words of Abraham Lincoln, who, when reminded that it was his duty to “destroy” his enemies, noted that he had destroyed his “enemies” when he made them his friends.
It is with that spirit of love, caring, and friendship, that Jesus taught us to preach. We are not indifferent to the disbelief of atheists. Rather, we seek to understand it, in order to learn more about our loving God. They don’t know any more about truth than any Christians, so we seek not to convert them to Christianity, per se. Instead, we seek to convert all people to a gospel of love, as we Christians have learned through the teachings of Jesus.
As we are reminded at the end of today’s gospel passage, the moment of opportunity is now. For example, do not mistakenly assume our Lord would have you strike down the traditions of Haitians who practice Voodoo. Don’t try to convert them to Christianity by kidnapping their children and disrespecting their laws. You have missed the opportunity to teach them our Lord’s message of love, which came for a crucial moment and then, in a fleeting instant, evaporated.
Like the second man in our gospel, whose father probably was not already dead, by the way, he either joins Jesus at that crucial moment or never comes at all. We all find opportunities like that in our lives — of saying “thank you” or “I love you” to someone, etc. The more we let these moments pass us by, the less likely we are ever to act on these urges. Sometimes, we let the emotions themselves serve as substitutes for the actions that those emotions should bring. That is no way to live a Christian life.
Every time some idiotic church group kidnaps a bunch of children, every time a pedophile priest molests a child, every time a preacher says something untrue or irrelevant, an opportunity is lost for conversion of hearts to a gospel of love. As St Paul tells us in our epistle reading today, those who serve the Spirit (love, God) do not serve the flesh (worldly or personal gain).
Our prayer is that people study what Jesus taught (or whoever your heroes may be), learning to love others and respect them. If you are Christian, learn to respect them as children of God, as Jesus taught you. Our Lord would not have you strike them or their traditions down. You may believe they are mistaken, but first of all, you don’t know the truth either, and second, your only chance of converting their heart to one of friendship and love is to treat them with love as a friend.