Pope Francis and the inclusiveness of mission


“At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” (Mk 9:38-43)

This reading from the Gospels as well as the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29) are both about the expansiveness of where God is at work in the world. In the reading from Numbers, we see people acting as prophets because the Spirit descended on them without others seeing it, and an initial rebuke against them for doing so, until Moses says, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”  Then a similar idea re-appears in the reading from Mark, when people drive out demons in Jesus’s name even though they are not among the known followers of Jesus. Jesus says, with great generosity, “whoever is not for us is against us.” Jesus’s main concern is not who is recognized as prophet, or healer, or follower, and who is not (division), but rather his emphasis is on the good that people are doing. Who cares for the thirsty? Who is willing to speak the truth? Who cares for the child? Jesus is mission focused, and rebukes (with kindness) those who are more interested in questions of status.

We see a similar way of being with others with Pope Francis and his visit. Pope Francis has been very focused on asking the Church to do the work of love and justice in the world: to welcome immigrants, to feed those who are hungry, to work for peace, to embrace those at the margins of society. At the September 11th speech, he led a multifaith service in which many religious leaders joined together with him in praying for peace. In speaking about religious liberty in Philadelphia, he said:

“I take this opportunity to thank all those, of whatever religion, who have sought to serve the God of peace by building cities of brotherly love, by caring for our neighbors in need, by defending the dignity of God’s gift of life in all its stages, by defending the cause of the poor and the immigrant. All too often, those most in need of our help are unable to be heard. You are their voice, and many of you have faithfully made their cry heard.”

Here we see his inclusive call for people of many faiths to be called to a common mission. Pope Francis yesterday also spoke about the importance of the laity, and especially the importance of woman both lay and religious, in the life of the church, groups that have often been marginalized in attitudes of clericalism. Last night, Pope Francis spoke about the way that the family is a place where we build love and hope in the world, thus reminding us that it’s not only in public and political spaces, but also in private relationships that God’s work is accomplished.

Pope Francis is inviting us all to be part of God’s mission, with our diverse gifts and talents, to attend to the needs of the poor, to welcome immigrants , to practice peacemaking, to cherish and protect the dignity of every human life, and to forgive and to reconcile. As his visit to the US comes to an end, we are each challenged by his visit to ask : where am I called? How can I serve?