How remarkable is it that we, today’s human being, who through our playthings and achievements have become used to all the different things of our time and world, the different cultures, faiths, customs, theories and opinions, even more so than those who have gone before us we should like to add, despite all of this, tend to want to fall back onto the one and the single with no place for the other, the different. Almost as if the constant exposure to the many is making us unfeeling and unseeing to the different. So that we end up choosing and imposing the one single, whether it is culture, custom, faith, belief, and what not. Do you differ from me? You better change to what I think and how I do, otherwise, take a hike, friend.
All around us, all over the world, that seems to be what we are regressing to. Even and especially within the church, a church that from the beginning gave a home to all sorts of people. Just look at the different religious orders and new religious movements, the one completely different from the other. And to think they are all Catholic!
The poor person who is “other” becomes the personification of evil and therefore we must reject him and stay away from her. Here we only welcome people who look and speak like us. Then we go to mass with hands devotedly folded and ask “Lord, have mercy” and “meia maxima culpa” and join in the prayer said by father that “we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”
Equally remarkable is the different ways in which Jesus called his first disciples. Last Sunday we heard in John’s gospel how he invited those to come and see where he lived, and they stayed with him for the whole day. So considerate, such good manners, a kind of gentle calling which gave them the opportunity to look him through, so to say, before they make their decision. In today’s gospel there is no time for good manners. He saw them and called them, “follow me”, finish. No reflection time, nothing. Just come, complete with an exclamation mark! And they did. Just followed him. Immediately.
That applies to the whole happy lot, the Twelve. Each one was called in a unique way by Jesus, to become part of him. In our context, I may add that it was perhaps to show his disciples 2000 years later that God relates to each of us in a different and unique way. He invites us with gentleness or he calls us abruptly, each one differently. Mine differs from yours and the one way is not better just because they differ.
Just think of it, we do not have just one gospel, but four different ones. Each one gives us a different image of Jesus. Each one lays the word of God differently in his mouth. Each one remembers different things that Jesus had done. And we accept all four of them! John ends his gospel by saying that Jesus did many things “which are not written down in this book” (John 20:30), because if all of those things had to be written down “even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
So much, then, to learn, so many different things to get to know already in these four gospels and then that would not be all there is to it. Then we want to limit every human person to one little old conviction and one custom and culture. How poor we want to be in our wealth!
But I suspect such talk is like a voice crying in the wilderness. It will not change much. Because we feel safe in the one thing that we all are used to. And we are in good company. The prophet Jonah had no space in his heart and his faith for people who are different. So… In Africa we don’t do this and we shall not do that. We are Africans. Finish! So, you people there, there is the door. We are a church with open doors, no? Okay, no, you can sit there, but don’t move. Because the doors are open.
Paul’s words in today’s second reading are a loud warning to us who are wasting so much with such attitudes. He writes: “Brothers, our time is growing short … the world as we know it is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29 and 31).
How deeply shocked will we not be when we see the Lord face to face one day and realise that those around him, “and enormous crowd – no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language” (Revelation 7:9), are all united, without their differences separating them. Then we will realise how rich we are through all our differences.
May we truly sing a new song to the Lord, as the entrance antiphon of today’s mass from Psalm 95 says, different as we are one from the other, the whole earth.