A couple of weeks ago, my mother’s side had a family reunion. I love Family reunions for the time to catch up with relatives that you only see once a year. When I got out of my truck I made the rounds to different Aunts, Uncles, and cousins to say hello and hear a one minute summary of the their year and then I saw my nephew who thinks I’m pretty cool. If you are an aunt or uncle to multiple nieces and nephews you probably know that there are some that like you more than others. I’ve always considered it my job to love them all the same. This one nephew, however, is the daredevil of the family. He loves to have me throw him around and I end up feeling more like a jungle gym than an uncle or a priest. I saw this little guy out of the corner of my eye and, as usual, he came running up to me. But, just before he did his usual leap into my arms for a bear hug, he stopped and said, “I hate your shirt.” Now, of course he hadn’t suddenly become a fashion critic, I had writing on my shirt that he didn’t like. He lives in Iowa City and, thus, is a Hawkeye fan. So, since I was wearing my non-priestly outfit of jeans and one of my varied Iowa State sweatshirts, he was expressing displeasure at my allegiance to Iowa State. So, when my nephew repeated, “I hate your shirt”, it caused my other nephew, whose dad is a graduate of this august institution, to start to defend me. I tried to tell them both that, now that the game was over there is no reason that we can’t cheer for both teams. I mean, let’s face it, if you live in Iowa you should want Iowa to beat Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois. It only makes our state of Iowa look better. No offense to our out of state student parishioners and their families. You have to understand I was trying to get my nephews to work together. But my nephews would have none of this reasoning. The University of Iowa is for turkeys according to one nephew and Iowa State is for cy-clowns according to the other.
Isn’t it amazing to see the kinds of lines we draw in the sand to differentiate ourselves from others. Sometimes they are used for purely evil purposes, for example instances of unfair discrimination like racism, sexism, class discrimination, and other sinful acts. Sometimes they are more mundane like differences between different team affiliations and where we born or grew up. Our readings challenge us today in this manner. In both the first reading and gospel, people are given gifts that someone else thinks they don’t deserve. In the gospel, it was an unnamed person who was driving demons out in Jesus’ name. In the first reading, it was these two elders, Eldad and Medad, who didn’t respond to the invitation given to them to go to meeting tent in order to receive Moses’ spirit but are given it nonetheless. In both cases, someone decides that these people who have been given spiritual gifts outside of the normal way they should have been given them, don’t deserve them. Jesus response is good, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Yet, I think Moses’ response is just as good for us to ponder if not better, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
If only the Lord would bestow his spirit on us all in the same way! I mean, don’t get me wrong. He has bestowed his spirit on us in baptism and, throughout our lives, we continue to discern those gifts that God has given to us as a fruit of baptism. Yet, jealousy can be the unfortunate result of the gift of the spirit, the jealousy that posits one person against another in a war of dominance. It’s hard to be satisfied with the gifts and talents that God has given to us and not wish that we could have the other person’s gifts and talents. It’s much easier to draw up sides and claim that one person or group is wrong and, clearly, the spawn of Satan. It’s much harder to consider that we may have to hold together two ideas that seem to contradict one another because both are true. But, if we do, this will challenge us to a greater understanding of truth, and, therefore, of God.
I believe this is what the Pope was talking about recently in his controversial speech in Regensburg, Germany. Despite what some consider a gaff on his part, the pope was making a point that too many people believe you have to believe in either faith or science. For a long time, religion was the closed minded structure that believed itself superior to natural sciences. This is evidenced in the quote had gave. Nowadays, however, it is science that believes it can operate in a theological vacuum and even, sometimes, disprove the very foundation of religion and theology. Pope Benedict was turning to a group of intellectuals; scientists, philosophers, and theologians, and inviting them to eat from the same table, to not turn the other into an ostracized Eldad or Medad.
We all have Eldads and Medads in our life and each of us need to hear the call of God in that first reading in a new way, "Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on us all!" What person or idea have we turned our back on that may need to be heard again?