INSIDERS VS OUTSIDERS: HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME OF THE YEAR (B)
-Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD
There seems to be two sides of almost every reality in our world. Philosophers will call it dualism that is the state of being in two parts; for instance male and female, good and bad, up and down, white and black, body and spirit etc. Each of these parts form what could be called a group.
Grouping is prevalent everywhere; in fact we all belong to one group or another. In fact from the divine arrangement of male and female we find ourselves grouped from birth. As children we begin to form groups of playmates, as youths we form peer groups or circles of friends, as adult we organize ourselves in groups as club or association members. From geographical locations we find ourselves grouped into different communities, villages, tribes and nations. Our religions draft us into different faith groups like Christians and Muslims to mention but two. Our careers and professions also place us into different groups like doctors, clerics, lawyers, engineers, nurses, architects, even beggars, touts, criminals have organized groups. One characteristic group mentality is that those in a given group see those outside the group as less important or weaker. For instance those outside the Military, Police or other paramilitary arms are called civilians (even bloody civilians) to indicate some differences. Globally we are aware that our world is divided into first, second, and third world countries. Generally, to be in a group is to be an Insider and not belonging to a given group makes one an Outsider. Even our sitting arrangement here in the Church divides us into groups whether as family member or as members of the choir, men. women, youths etc.
We are in short products of various groups with our respective group mentalities, beliefs and dispositions. It is also important to indicate that within a group one can still find other groups and sub groups; it continues down to the level of the individuals in a group.
We have taken so much time to describe what constitutes a group because the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29) and the first part of the gospel (Mark 9:38-43) tell us about the group phenomenon; that is Insiders and Outsiders factor. God commanded Moses to appoint seventy elders to assist him in leading the people. He was further asked to bring them before Him at the Tent of Meeting. By this appointment of seventy elders a group was formed from among the people; a peculiar group with divine confirmation. At the time they were brought before God two persons among them (Eldad and Medad) were not present. We are not told what brought about their absence. They could have been sick, indisposed, preoccupied or anything. At the Tent of Meeting God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders and they began to prophecy. The turning point of the narrative was that the two elders who were not present at the meeting and who were in the camp joined them to prophecy at the same time. By human judgment they were not supposed to prophecy because they were physically disconnected from the group. We can see this in the effort of a young man who ran to Moses to report the event, as well as Joshua who asked Moses to stop them.
From the first part of the gospel today we encounter a similar episode like what we saw in the first reading. Last Sunday the apostles were arguing about who was the greatest among them. We saw how our Lord summarized greatness for them using the formular of “smallness” and service. Today they seem to drop their individualism and took up group superiority attitude. They saw someone who was not a member of their group casting out devil with the name of Jesus and they tried to stop him because he was not one of them. Obviously they got the same answer that Moses gave to Joshua when he requested that the two elders who were prophesying in the camp be stopped.
From the two readings one can notice one prevailing trend. From the first reading, the young man who saw the two elders prophesying and Joshua failed to evaluate the content of their prophecy; was it false and destructive or was it in line with what God wanted. The young man saw them prophesying but on what? From the gospel on the other hand, the apostles got the idea that the man was using the right formular to cast out devil (that is in the name of Jesus) but their group attitude blinded them from appreciating that the man was in fact helping them in their work. They failed to ask: “is this man doing a good thing?” “Is he in anyway way helping or hindering our ministry?” Often we are reflective of the attitude of the young man, Joshua and the apostles. We are ready to condemn, discard and expel anyone who is not a member of our group even when the person in question is doing some great and helpful works. This happens in various areas of life. In politics, members of a given party can never see anything good in other parties even when the plans and projects of other parties are for the common good. In religion, in Christianity, in our different Christian groups, among the Clergy and in fact in every conceivable group the same trend runs: “S/he is not one of us, s/he is not a member of our group!” No matter how good you can be if you are, outside your group you may not be accepted because you don’t belong! This is one ugly factor in our society that is creating unjustifiable barriers everywhere. The rich see the poor as outsiders, the rulers see the ruled as outsiders, the fortunate see the less privileged as outsiders. Even our Lord Jesus Christ had the outsider experience throughout his ministry on earth and even died on that account. So whenever you face opposition or rejection because you don’t belong remember that it is a Christ-like experience.
There is another level of Outsider-Insider experience which actually endures forever. On this platform, one qualifies to be an Outsider or Insider depending on one’s choice; that is what one does here on earth. St. James in the second reading today (Jas. 5:1-6) set the scene very well. Among other things he told the rich to start crying because of the miseries that will be coming their way. He further said that their wealth will rot away. St. James was actually saying that at the end of our human standard, God’s eternal standard will be established. This means that those who considered themselves Insiders will become Outsiders while those who were considered Outsiders will become Insiders. According to the apostle James God will be the one to decide finally who will be the Insider and the Outsider. Those who oppressed the poor, those who dwelt on material gains and considered themselves the Insiders will at the end of time become Outsiders in relation to the kingdom of God. The table will evenually turn!
To evade this experience our Lord Jesus Christ in the second part of the gospel advised us to let go! There is power in letting go. The first part of this second part of the gospel challenges us to give. Most people have not yet understood the power in giving. Giving is God’s way of life and one of the things God does we can do. To become an Insider in God you must be a giver. This directive has basis in the Old Testament (Deut 15:10; 16:17; Prov.3:9&27; 28:27; Malachi 3:10). In the New Testament Our Lord gave it as an instruction (Matt. 5:42; 10:8; Luke 3:11; 6:38). Some of the apostles also dwelt on the same issue of giving (Act 20:35; 2 Cor. 9:6-7; I Peter 4:8; I John 3:17-18).
In the second part of the second part of the gospel today our Lord encouraged us to let go in a different way. Here he tells us to let go by dropping off those things that will hinder us from becoming Insiders in God after our earthly existence. According to him we are expected to cut off anything that will prevent us from entering into eternal life. Let us not see the hands, feet, and eyes that he asked us to discard as the physical ones we have. They represent things, persons, events, situations that make us Outsiders from God. Those realities that replace our communication and connection with God, those realities that steal and keep our attention from God, those realities that make us Outsiders; away from God and His eternal blessings. Point blank there are some persons, things, events and situations are not necessary in your life, discard them; your life can become more meaningful without them.
We are called upon today not to make other people outsiders because they do not belong to our group. Today we are called to plant and nurture acceptance of others in order to secure our acceptance before God. She or he may not belong to your earthly group but we all belong to God’s eternal group so do not stop him or her from doing that which is good!
Do have a happy Sunday and a blessed week ahead!