It is ironically fitting that this Sunday’s gospel coincides with the last day of His Holiness Pope Francis’ visit to the US. The warm outpouring of devotion that greeted his visit has been inspiring; no matter what pew you witness it from. No one could help but be moved by Francis’ obvious embodiment of faith, hope and charity. His visit is a very dramatic reminder of how far the Body of Christ has come and how far we have yet to go.
With that in mind, this week’s gospel opens on a note of how very human… and how very much like us… the apostles were. Christ’s followers are all worked up over someone poaching on what they believe is their exclusive rights to the “Jesus franchise.” They are outraged because an interloper has been casting out devils in the name of Jesus. The nerve of that guy. He’s not one of us. He’s not a registered, dues-paying member of our official branch of the Messiah fan club.
But Jesus is having none of it. He is quick to correct them: Don’t stop him…Whoever is not against us is with us. If only succeeding generations of Christians had listened to Christ’s words of caution, how different our history would be. In this gospel, I suspect that deep down the apostles are motivated not so much by their love of Christ, as they are by their assumed ownership of Christian orthodoxy. They are revelling in that rush of superiority we get when we pass judgment on others. The power to put people down as not measuring up to our inflated expectations is so very satisfying. And like most cheap thrills, it is corrupting.
For centuries the Body of Christ has been corrupted by those who claim to have exclusive access to the will of God. The ultimate obscenity is for Christians to usurp the prerogatives of God and go about condemning others as un-Christian for what are essentially honest differences in scriptural interpretation and dogmatic hair-splitting. Mix in some over-sized egos, a scoop of politics, a dollop of disputed property rights… then add a pinch of group dynamics … and you have the devil’s own recipe for destruction.
And what a lethal brew it is. It martyred More and Tyndale. It sent Fisher to the block and Cranmer to the stake. On St. Bartholomew’s Eve, in the name of Jesus, the charming streets of Paris ran with Protestant blood, while the misty skies of Ireland were blackened by the ashes of incinerated Papists. By the grace of God, this sacrilege, in Chesterton’s words, of: “Christian killeth Christian” is now virtually extinct. While the pernicious plague of “Christian judging Christian” flourishes in both its genteel and virulent varieties.
In Matthew 7, Jesus tells us: Judge not lest ye be judged. This is not a call to suspend our beliefs or our values. It is a command against usurping what belongs to God alone … the right and the power to render judgment on each one of his beloved children. If our lust for judgment remains unsatisfied, our own lives are ample, appropriate meat for examination. And when it comes to the only judgment that really counts, look for Jesus to find more favor in someone who may have made a mess of doctrine, but gotten love of God and neighbor just right. As C.S. Lewis reminds us: “Heaven will display far more variety than Hell.” So, as we hope for salvation, expect to spend eternity with many more heretics than hypocrites.
The “Jesus franchise” belongs to Jesus alone… not to any person or institution, however exalted. In his infinite wisdom, God blesses us all in our diversity and in our unity. In this morning’s gospel, Christ has a final word for any of us who might find our brother or sister’s faith not exactly to our taste: Your life has been salted… flavored by the love of Christ. Preserve it with humility. Share it with joy. Like salt, the love of Christ is a commodity essential to life. It is not a proprietary boutique brand, more packaging than product. In that spirit, Jesus tells us: Have salt in yourself, and be at peace with one another.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: “France-Noirmoutier-Sel brut” by –Pinpin 20:24, 19 September 2006 (UTC) – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –