My friends, today we are challenged to see a very big picture—to look through the lens that our loving God uses when viewing the peoples of the world—the People of God. And just “who,” we might ask is this People of God? If one reads the history of the Israelite people and of the covenant made between them and God, we would assume that they, the Israelite people, are the People of God. Enter the prophets; today especially, Isaiah.
Isaiah warns (as prophets do) to not be so smug—that the God who loves and cares for them also loves and cares for all of humankind. It would appear that many in leadership of our country are not aware of this! Where did we ever get such terminology as “the one true church?” Isaiah’s God will gather people from north and south, east and west and all will be welcome. It is this desire, this action of his Abba God that Jesus prays for the night before his death in John 17—this desire, this action is what we as a church community are named for, that “they all may be one,” that all would be welcome. And not only that all would be welcomed, the prophet says, but that all will rank equally with the Israelites who have felt they are a shoe-in for all of God’s promises, because they are “the People of God.”
This is where the tone in the gospel that seems so harsh, as we read it, comes from. Jesus is basically fulfilling Isaiah’s prophetic words—just because God has made a covenant does not mean that people have a free ride.
How did our Church—to the present day, ever come to the place of having some be a step above any other; some with titles and positions of power that they claim for themselves—Monsignor, Your Excellency, Very Reverend Father? What is it that allows some of us in God’s family to claim that, “we are called” by nature of how we happened to have been born and others are not for that same reason? Certainly reading Isaiah’s prophetic words today, one could not come to such a conclusion.
Jesus was very clear—painfully clear in fact, in letting the Israelites know that this will not be the case—they will not have a free ride. Each one worthy of the eternal banquet must do their part in this life to invite, welcome, and be open to all and that includes us! So, what does this truly mean? Does it mean that I will invite, welcome and be open to all who see things my way? I don’t think so! These Scriptures should certainly call present-day Israelites to task with regard to their Palestinian neighbors, especially those of the prophet, Isaiah!
Our challenge throughout our earthly journey is to attempt to see the manifestation of God in each person we meet. This is the central point in a series of articles in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) recently on “real presence” in Eucharist—it only matters on the altar if we can first see the “real presence” in each other! Seeing Jesus in each other is easy to do when we are all of like mind and belief—but when people think and act very differently from us, then the message of our prime manifestation of God, as Christians, Jesus, our brother, becomes more difficult.
A present day national conflict is that of the crisis of guns in our country. We see the rights of gun owners pitted against the rights of others to simply, live. When 100 lose their lives daily to guns in this country, no matter the cause; we can with certitude say that access to guns is over-the-top. And the ignorant rhetoric of the National Rifle Association and anyone who repeats it, that this is a “mental health issue,” is simply burying their head in the sand, at the cost of so many innocent lives.
And even if it were true, which it isn’t, that the proliferation of gun deaths in this country is “a mental health issue,” wouldn’t we want to protect our population when these same mentally ill people go looking for a gun by making it extremely difficult for them to get their hands on one?
Jesus’ words of today, it would seem, come into play here describing Abba God’s reaction, “I do not know you!” We are required my friends, to be honest, to be responsible, to be reasonable, to consider the needs of others, not just our own—this is what we will be judged on one day, not who we know, nor how much we have accumulated of this world’s goods, but by our actions in making this world as good as it can be for all of us.
Getting back to the bigger picture then, human and theological thought have evolved far enough now for us to realize that our God is universal—there is one God for all of us, different and wonderful people on this earth. And if that is the case, we must all accept the fact that this God of us all became present through time in Jesus, in Buddha, in Muhammad, in the Great Spirit and in ways we may not yet be aware of. All these manifestations show us a different face of God that none of us is able to fully understand in this life. And why would we expect it to be any other way?
Jesus told us when he graced the earth—“Your ways are not God’s ways.” Translation: God can appear to humans in any way that God chooses. In addition, God is able to love more, show more mercy, more understanding, and deal out more justice that any of us could ever imagine. It would seem that all this God asks of us is that we try to live out, as best we can, these qualities that for us Christians, Jesus demonstrated so well. And if we do, we won’t need to waste energy on whose god is the best!
Amid the differences, in ideologies, in thought processes, as in our current gun crisis in this country; we must strive to see that the manifestations of God in other major belief systems ask the same of their followers as Jesus asks of us. Thomas Merton, before he died too young, had done a great deal of work comparing the words and teachings of Buddha and Jesus—finding many similarities. Reading the words of the Great Chiefs of our Native American peoples also shows similar likenesses. So, why do we try and say, “We are right, you are wrong” when all have a piece of the truth? Why do we say, “Men are called, women are not?” Why is our thinking so narrow, so small, when our God is so broad, so big, so loving, so inclusive? Where we can challenge others respectfully is on their actions—claiming Jesus, Buddha, Muhammed, the Great Spirit, does not allow having a closed mind to the truth of gun violence in this country, or any other issue that affects us all.
The greater, broader message of today’s readings is that of how God sees the “People of God.” We are all included and that should change how we look at each other, especially when we disagree on any issue. It seems whenever we can put a face and an experience on the “pain,” the misunderstanding, the different way of thinking, the different lifestyle, the different belief system—the “something” or “someone” that we feel we can’t live with—can’t accept—we are then opened up, by the grace of God , to a bigger world—allowed to look , just a bit, through the lens that our God looks through and see the multi-colored grandness of all humanity and all of creation, really—the many different faces of God as reflected in all of God’s people and our beautiful world.
The Winona Community, for the 16th year welcomes our Native American sisters and brothers here this weekend as we remember our not-so-good past and promise anew to know, to try and understand and to learn how to share this beautiful piece of land. And forgiveness is also part of this process, on both sides.
Every attempt we make my friends to know God more through each and every one we meet only draws us closer to that day when we will truly see God’s face in its entirety. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that our God is coming to gather the nations of every language. The psalmist cries out that we should share God’s love with the whole world. The writer to the Hebrews says that suffering will be part of this journey and that we should strive to make the path of our journey straight. And finally, Luke’s gospel concludes with the reminder that none of us are better than the rest of us, so it would behoove us to welcome all, be open to all, and see each one as necessary to show us the total face of God.
And perhaps as our image of God grows larger, as seen through the eyes of many and countless, different people on this earth, our vision of what God is calling us to for the good of our world can grow too! Amen? Amen!