Homily for May 18th, 2016: Mark 9:38-40.
“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me,” Jesus tells his disciples who have found someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name who was not among his followers. “For whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus explains. We find a strikingly similar incident in the Old Testament book of Numbers.
During the 40 years’ wandering of God’s people in the wilderness, Moses calls together 70 elders of the people, who gather round the tent where God was worshipped. God comes down in a dark cloud and speaks to Moses. “Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,” the text says, “he bestowed it on the 70 elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.” (Num. 11:24ff.) Two of the 70 elders, named Eldad and Medad, didn’t make it to the assembly; but the spirit came on them nonetheless, and they too prophesied. An unnamed young man reports this to Moses; and his lieutenant Joshua urges Moses to stop Eldad and Medad. Moses refuses. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets,” Moses says.
What is at issue in both incidents is what we call today tolerance. There is a great difference, however, in the tolerance affirmed by both Moses and Jesus, and the basis for tolerance today. Modern tolerance rests on the belief that there is no such thing as truth. There is only your truth and my truth. But truth itself doesn’t exist, modern society says. Such a position would have been unthinkable to Moses and Jesus.
Biblical tolerance is based on the belief that there is good in all people of good will, even if some of their beliefs may be mistaken. The Catholic Church holds that there may be a kernel of truth even in positions which may be mistaken. Hence we respond to people whose beliefs differ from ours not simply by condemnation, but by affirming whatever is good and true in their positions. This is what enabled Pope Francis, questioned aboard the plane which brought him back to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil about people, including priests, with an attraction to their own sex: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” In the media frenzy which followed the Pope’s two conditions – searching for the Lord, and having good will – were mostly ignored. Pope Francis has said more than once that he is “a son of the Church.” He has changed no Catholic teaching, and does not intend to.