Reaching across walls

| Father Michael Byron | October 7, 2019 | 0 Comments
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Before I entered the seminary I worked in a small community bank.

Nearest to the entrance of the bank was the receptionist, whose job was to act as a kind of gatekeeper, regulating customer access to us bankers. But there was nothing to prevent people from just walking past that desk and sitting down in front of one of us who wasn’t otherwise occupied.

And for better or worse, they did.

In the years since then, banks and other businesses have become more sophisticated in the art of gatekeeping. The effect of this is that it is now easier for a person to encounter only those with whom he or she desires to be. Even in one‘s religious practice it can often be arranged to hang around mostly with people with whom we’d prefer to be anyway.

We don’t need to pretend to deny that instinct, or to insist that it always represents bigotry or xenophobia. But we do have to confront the fact that to get stuck there is contrary to a fully Christian life, and to choose to persist in that way of living is positively sinful. This weekend’s readings bear witness to that.

In the first reading (2 Kings) we meet Naaman, plagued with leprosy, who plunges himself into the Jordan River at the instruction of Elisha, the “Man of God.” He is made completely clean, and thus profoundly grateful to the God of Israel. What this section of the story doesn’t tell us — but which we’d better know because it’s the center of the drama — is that Naaman was from Syria, a pagan, a non-believer up to that point. He was everything that an Israelite had an excuse to ignore “by the book.” Even more than that, there was open antagonism between Naaman and Elisha on the matter of religion earlier in the story. When Elisha had first told Naaman what to do, he said in reply, “If it’s just a matter of jumping in a river I could have stayed at home — we have rivers in Syria, too, you know.”

But Elisha, the faithful Israelite, hung in there with this obstinate foreigner, not because it was pleasant or politically correct. He did so because Naaman arrived with a shameful disease and asked Elisha to help him. Across the barriers of religion, race, culture, nation, worldview came the question, “Will you attend to me just because I’m here?”

And in our Gospel we meet Jesus, whose journey from Galilee to Jerusalem has put him in foreign country, Samaria. So it is not surprising that when Jesus comes across 10 lepers who cry out to him for pity, at least one of them is a foreigner. Once again, for Jesus there is exactly one relevant question, namely: When confronted with all this separateness and division among races, religions, cultures, etc., and having been asked to help, what do we do next? Do we reach across the walls of otherness, or do we travel on — with the blessing of mainstream popular opinion?

Does any of this sound familiar in 2019 in the United States? Ours is not a tradition of gatekeeping, of holding people apart. We are to serve the ones who present themselves, no matter what.

Father Byron is pastor of Pax Christi in Eden Prairie. He can be reached at mbyron@paxchristi.com.


Sunday, October 13
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures