“Birds of a feather flock together,” “Like goes with like” – sayings which tell it like it is for human beings. Whether in terms of age, race or social background we can find it easier and more comfortable to be with people like us. This is, surely, one of the Church’s greatest dangers as it so easily leads to an often unconscious exclusivism – and for some parts of the Christian family to a very deliberate exclusivism and unwillingness to associate with those who differ in their understanding and expression of their faith in Jesus.
How very different was the response of Jesus to John’s wish to stop someone, not part of the group of disciples, using the name and power of Jesus to help and heal. The phrase, “Whoever is not against us is for us” was not original to Jesus but he used it because it so clearly reflected his approach: I find it interesting to learn that an ancient papyrus text goes on, “The one who is far off today will be close tomorrow.”
Surely Jesus was telling the disciples, and us, not to look for labels – look for actions. When we see mercy, compassion, faith, should we not rejoice, as Jesus rejoiced? We recall, from Matthew’s Gospel that in speaking of a Roman centurion Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matt 8 10).
How readily does this reflect our attitudes? We may mean it when we say and sing, “All are welcome in this place,” but would all, yes all, feel welcomed? And on what terms would our welcome be given? How easily we build thorn hedges, even walls, to keep separate and distinguish our group from others – “like goes with like” and we consolidate our position by appeals to tradition, personal preference even attempts to cite apostolic authority.
The words of Jesus are a rebuke to any arrogant assumption that God only works in ways with which we are familiar and which we approve. To quote H E Luccock, “If one tenth of the time Christians have devoted to building fences had gone into building roads as a highway for God, the world would be a far better place today.”