Life & Soul

There are countless examples of outsiders who became the instruments of God’s grace

Jesus rebukes the narrowness of his disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel reading

‘But who can detect all his errors? From hidden faults acquit me. From presumption restrain your servant and let it not rule me.”

The psalmist acknowledges the ‘‘hidden faults’’ that so easily escape our consciousness. Hidden pride is perhaps the most insidious of the many failings that can distort our judgment and colour our presumptions.

Such was the hidden pride encountered by Moses in the desert. At the Tent of Meeting, Moses, accompanied by the 70 elders, had spoken with his Lord. On this occasion the God of Israel imbued the 70 elders with the spirit of Moses, and they began to prophesy immediately. In terms of the narrative, this was not remarkable. What followed was remarkable.

The same spirit had also come down on Eldad and Medad who had not been present with Moses and the 70 elders at the Tent of Meeting. They also began to prophesy, prompting the reaction that was voiced to Moses by Joshua: “My Lord Moses, stop them!”

Clearly there had been a presumption on the part of those who had accompanied Moses to the tent that they, and they alone, were the recipients of the Spirit. Consequently they were blind to any perception of the Spirit beyond their own narrow circle. The response of Moses was scathing: “Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all.”

Simple though this story is, it illustrates the blindness and presumption with which we so often hinder the generosity of God’s love. Generosity and grace are not the preserve of the chosen few. There are countless examples, throughout the Scriptures and beyond, of outsiders who became the instruments of God’s grace. We, however, frequently insist on our own narrow perception, and are sometimes blind to the goodness before us.

Such was certainly the case in a similar incident encountered by Jesus: “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.”

Jesus, like Moses, rebuked the narrowness of his disciples: ‘‘You must not stop him. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’’

Rather than defining and condemning the outsider, our eyes should be open to God’s presence wherever it is to be found. This seems self-evident, and yet prejudice frequently blinds us to the goodness that is to be found in every generation, every culture and every class. With Jesus there were neither outsiders nor insiders, only the openness that acknowledges goodness wherever it is to be found: “If anyone gives you a cup of water just because you belong to Christ, he will most certainly not lose his reward.”

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (25/9/15)

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