Each of us has one (or the other). We share having it and it connects us, past, present and future with the whole of humanity. It crosses racial, ethnic, cultural, physical, age and gender boundaries.
I’m not talking about navels, although I could. I’m actually addressing the issue of another thing that has the same ubiquitous power to connect us, and that’s our ability to draw boundaries.
No matter who we are or where we live or what school we went to or what our job is or what colour our hair, eyes or skin happens to be, we humans have this in common: we have an extraordinary ability to create two groups of people, usually labelled Us (or me) and Them.
We see the results of this ability whenever Grand Final footy is played, or a boat load of refugees appears near Java, or a person makes a video belittling someone else’s faith, or a host of other circumstances.
As I say, it doesn’t take much for us to draw boundaries. The results of boundary-drawing are neither particularly pleasing to the eye or to the emotions, except if the Bulldogs beat the Storm this weekend.
What’s worse is the accompanying desire we have to let someone else sort out the difficulties: for some bureaucracy to come in and enforce conformity to manage our anxieties.
In the Gospel for this week, Jesus gets confronted with this line drawing, Innie v Outtie, battle. His disciples were getting twitchy; they want him to stop another bloke from casting out demons in his name because (horror of horrors) he wasn’t one of them.
I am not surprised that Jesus didn’t buy into this. It doesn’t surprise me that He goes on to point out that anyone who does a good work in his name will have a hard job doing anything against his name in the future.
It’s almost as if we are hard-wired to make lines, whether they’re racial, ethnic, linguistic, political, sexual, physical or religious. Truth is, religious lines are particularly well drawn and so simple.
As I contemplate this Gospel passage, I wonder whether it could shape or re-shape how we might think about those who see God differently from us, if they see him at all.
While we know that the unnamed exorcist was acting in Jesus’ name, what we don’t know is whether that makes him/her a follower of Jesus, a wanna-be disciple or just someone on the make.
What we do know is that he’s scaring the disciples witless and they want to shut him down but can’t.
It’s right here that Jesus does one of his Let-me-turn-the-tables-on-you tricks. He gives his boys a little warning about stumbling blocks and the dangers they pose for people on the move.
Now I really am in a dilemma. I’m now asking myself: Is it my zeal for God or is it my xenophobia that is putting a stumbling block in front of people, drawing a line between me and those who have another faith, or none? Which one is it that makes it harder for them to see and know the great love of God-in-Christ, my faith or my fear?
A few years ago, people wore rubber bangles on their wrists with WWJD? written on them (we still see a few here in NQ, such is our penchant for things of antiquity). The question posed on them (What Would Jesus Do) was built on the assumption that there was something that Jesus did that is always useful to know.
What he did, of course, was to say that his followers were not to prevent doing good stuff for people, even if they weren’t an Innie. There are no boundary lines when it comes to caring.
He told us very forcibly that we were to help others even if we didn’t know what they believed. We’re not to put a stumbling block in front of anyone who is needy or vulnerable or both, and for us to be at peace.
“Here’s the thing”, said one commentator “every time we draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, we’ll find Jesus on the other side.”
As we get more and more pluralistic, multi-cultural, complicated and diverse, the chances of us actually meeting people from other faith families, or none, is increasing exponentially.
The Gospel this week shakes our foundations. Jesus calls us to be at peace with everyone, even those who name God differently or those who aren’t able to name Him at all. It’s a direct result of a No-Innie or Outtie stance.