The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day: An inclusive society, and a personal knowledge of Christ.

We live in a society where there is frequent mention of an inclusive, or all-inclusive, society. Political parties, politicians and public figures pledge themselves to work creating this. This is but part of a modern movement towards respect for the individual human person and the legal defence of human rights. What these rights are, are set out in individual national and international charters, and when violated upheld in established courts of justice.

            This respect for the human person is very much in keeping with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The human person is created in the image of God. After blasphemy (a sin against the deity), the next greatest sin was taken to be murder, the destruction of the image of God, and hence an offence against the One in whose image humans are created. Respect for the image of God had Jesus go beyond the negative “You shall not murder”, to declare anger, harsh words, insults against one’s brothers and sisters, to be serious sins (Matthew 5:21-22). In the second reading today Paul told the Corinthians, and all of us, “Never do anything offensive to anyone”.

            Inclusiveness is the removal of exclusion. Today’s Gospel reading tells how Jesus worked to have the leprous man healed and reinstated within his community. Exclusion has various roots. One is fear, fear of contagious in the case of leprous disease. Another is the fear arising from the behaviour of certain groups, such as the Roma in Europe and the travelling community nearer home to us. Given the variety of causes, there can be pressure for being inclusive with regard to some groups (possibly by reason of good organization and media pressure) while the situation of other marginalized groups is ignored.

            A movement or drive towards all-inclusiveness, without due reflection, may lead to attempted enforced uniformity. Such a movement will depend somewhat in the mind-set, the overall worldview, the weltanschaung, of individuals or groups. Thus it can come about that the all-inclusiveness in question can be imbued, if not driven, by a secular or secularist world view that would have religion excluded from every public domain, from primary schools, public life and public discourse. These forces are very much at work in the world in which we live, and should be borne in mind in any dialogue between the biblical and Christian vision and modern life.

            An outright secular world view and the Christian view will almost certainly come into conflict. Both in a sense are absolutist, on the one hand in the matter of the denial of the divine, and on the other God and Christ at the very centre of vision and activity in the Christian approach. Christ’s church is, and must be, inclusive by reason of the second commandment to love one’s neighbour. But this will always be God’s commandment, not just social service. From its very foundation the church has been centred on Jesus Christ. He had a group of faithful disciples around him, and they were sent out to preach the good news. Christ’s message and that of his Church was and is: “Repent and believe in the Gospel, the good news”. Repent meant, and still means, changing focus from a Jewish or Greek, or any other world view to that of Christ and of his Gospel, the good news. Christ’s apostles had to be clear on their mission, to preach in a world at times hostile to their message, and to see to it that the new and growing Christian communities retained their cohesiveness and were not absorbed by any surrounding, non-Christian, culture. This is quite clear in Paul’s letters to his churches: conversion to Christ meant a break with a former view of morality and living. When he tells the Corinthians, and later generations, never to do anything offensive to anyone he has a missionary aim in view: to have them, if possible, convert to Christ. Christ himself had said something similar: So let your light shine before others, so that they may from this glorify the Father in heaven. Paul could truly say: “Take me for your model, as I take Christ”. We are called to be inclusive, or all-inclusive, but without losing our Christian identity and our sense of individual and collective Christian mission.

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