To each his own

Al Cariño

26th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Reproduced with Permission

After God liberated the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, Moses was constantly bombarded with their never-ending complaints about the harsh conditions of life in the desert. Exasperated, he told God, "I am not able to carry this nation by myself anymore." God forthwith relieved Moses of some of the burdens of leadership by sharing it with seventy elders.

There were however two elders who were not present when this was done. Yet the Spirit came to rest on them just the same. Joshua, Moses' aide, asked him to put a stop to what the two were doing. Moses rebuked him instead saying, "Are you jealous for my sake?... Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!" (Num. 11:25-29)

In his own time, Jesus reaffirmed this perspective (MK. 38-43.45.47-48). This happened when someone who was not His disciple was casting out demons successfully. The apostle John reported to Jesus saying, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Earlier there was a a man who complained to Jesus saying, "I asked your disciples to drive it (spirit of dumbness) out, but they were unable to do so" (Mk. 9:18). Now these unsuccessful exorcists wanted Jesus to put His stamp of approval on their effort to stop the successful exorcist! Jesus responded, "Do not prevent him.... For whoever is not against us is for us."

What in effect both Moses and Jesus are telling us is that we must not impose limits on God's power and goodness, that God is free to bestow His gifts on anyone as He sees fit. What guarantees that our actions are good is not our membership to this or that church or organization but the very goodness of our deeds. And they are good if they are in accord with God's will. For did not Jesus say, "There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me." Thus what is important for God is the good done by someone to others and not just by those who "belong."

In this regard, there are some social activists in the Church who view that the only way to eradicate poverty is to change the unjust social structures which allow the powerful to exploit the powerless. These people discourage direct aid to the poor as it would merely perpetuate the "cycle of dependency." Though they are right in advocating the dismantling of unjust social structures, they are wrong in saying that the poor are not to be helped directly.

Why? Because such an exclusivist view would leave no room for people in the Church like Mother Teresa of Calcutta who spent her life giving direct comfort to the poor. Which is not the case at all. Her work has not only benefited the poor but it has also been amply blest by the Spirit as seen by its fruits. In her lifetime, she was not called "Saint of the Gutter" for nothing.

While still a nun of the Sisters of Loretto in 1946, Mother Teresa heard a "call within a call" -- to serve God among the poorest of the poor. Since then, she attended to the earth's most wretched -- "the unwanted, unloved and uncared for." Thereafter, she began attending to the needs of the poor, the orphans, the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the sick, the dying -- in short, the most abandoned. An orphan, now a young lady who cares for the younger residents in the Indian orphanage where she grew up, said of her, "I had never seen my mother, but after Mother Teresa picked me up, she became my mother."

Mother Teresa attended to the needy regardless of religion, race, age or gender. It is said that once she was ministering to a dying old Hindu. Grasping the crucifix hanging from her neck, the man asked, "What is this?" "That is the symbol of my God," she replied. "Then your God is also my God!" he exclaimed before dying.

Contrary to what some Church social activists hold, Mother Teresa firmly believed that love without action would not relieve the suffering of the wretched. As she herself said, "I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?" On another occasion she said, "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving." For this reason, at the end of each day, she and her nuns walked the streets to bring the dying home so they would die with dignity while looking at a loving face.

The Spirit of God blows where it chooses. No individual or religious leader, civic or religious organization, has a monopoly of good. And the sooner we realize this and get out of our exclusivist shells, the sooner we can all work together to make this world a better place to live in. For Jesus set no preconditions when He said, "Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do to me."