Opening ourselves up to others

26 September 2021, 26th Sunday, Year B

We might think that, as a general rule, belonging to a group would be a good thing. However, today’s Scriptures teach us that belonging to a group might not be all positive. As members of a group, we might advance the group’s interests to the detriment of others outside the group. We might be so protective of the group’s achievements that we do not want anyone else to do the same things – simply because that person is “not one of us”.

James’ letter is particularly severe on the rich – not because they were wealthy but because of what they were doing together as a group. He warned them to expect divine retribution because they were cheating their workers of their wages and exploiting their workers’ powerlessness to support their own luxurious and opulent lifestyles.

Pope John Paul II called this kind of belonging “communion in sin”. It involves people working together to advance their own interests by exploiting others. In such cases, injustices are perpetuated systematically and efficiently for the benefit of the few.

Both the disciples of Moses and the disciples of Jesus felt they belonged to exclusive groups formed by their masters for good purposes. They felt threatened by the success of others outside their circle doing what they felt should properly belong to them. They demanded that any outsider be stopped from doing what he or she was doing, simply because such a person was not one of the group, “not one of us”.

The responses of both Moses and Jesus are very instructive. They challenged their disciples to see the marvellous works of God’s Spirit, which can move in totally unexpected ways. They challenged them to respect God’s freedom and choice about who should be working for the kingdom and truth. The group is invited not to be threatened, but to be open to outsiders who do things differently, and to acknowledge with humility that truth and goodness are larger than we are.

Belonging to groups and organisations will always be part of our human experience. While it is natural that we feel a sense of pride in the groups to which we belong, we need to ask questions about how any particular group is forming us as human beings. Is the group helping us grow towards true goodness and truth, or not?

It is natural for us to want to belong. But we do well to reflect on how the group is operating. Is our group too exclusive? Should we be more open to others?  

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