Love Is Inclusive
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

There was a song that became a favorite among children and teenagers recently. Its opening line says, “In or out, am I in or out?” The song speaks of being in or out of someone’s affections or someone’s heart. Being in or out is not just a teen-ager’s preoccupation. Even adults are preoccupied with belonging or not belonging.

Action starter: How wide is your circle? Widen it more.

Adults who are conscious of their social status choose the clubs or crowd they want to be a part of. Some elitist groups are very choosy about who can be accepted as members of their club or organization. There are subdivisions that only the very rich can afford. A person or a particular group of people may be in or out not only because of their social status but also because of their tribe or religion. We are more comfortable in working with or living among people who are like ourselves.

I once asked my post-graduate class to fill-in an “ethnic distance” inventory. Among other things, they were asked whether they would prefer this or that person as their neighbor, in-law, co-worker, or member of their organization. The results were not new. My students were more comfortable with those who belong to their tribe, who share the same religion, and come from the same social background. When asked if they would prefer this or that nationality, strangely they would prefer Americans than fellow-Asians. This indicated a certain colonial mentality even among the more educated ones. We would prefer our children to work in America or Europe rather than in China, Japan, or Thailand. We would prefer them to bring home an American or European husband or wife rather than an Asian one.

This tendency to categorize people as in or our of our circle is not a new one. In today’s Gospel reading, even Jesus had to contend with the prejudices of his own closer circle of townspeople and relatives. In their close-knit Mediterranean culture, a person brings honor or shame not only to his family but to his townsfolks as well. They were proud of Him because of the wonderful things they heard him doing in neighboring Caphernaum. At the same time, they could not quiet understand why He was preaching and healing the sick in a place that was peopled by a large Gentile population.

When Jesus had the occasion to preach to his own relatives, He defended His action by citing the stories of the Gentile widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian who were helped by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. His townsfolk did not take kindly to these comparisons. They instead became angry and violent. They were caught up in the cultural mentality of who was in or out. They wanted exclusivity. Jesus was preaching inclusivity.

That God loves all people, not just His Chosen people, was a message that was already preached even by the older prophetic tradition. Jeremiah understood his prophetic call as for “all nations” (first reading). Jesus was underlining the universalism of God’s love.

Love is inclusive. The second reading contains St. Paul’s famous description of what love is (1Cor. 12-13). This passage is often read during weddings and even funerals. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not snobbish. Love is not jealous. And so on. If one examines this very closely, one will find out that love is not choosy. Love by its very nature overflows. It overflows even outside our defined circles.

Sometimes it takes children to remind us what love really means. In my early years as a parish priest I had to make decisions about who were genuinely in need of help and who were not (there were swindlers too). One who came to me for bus tickets to go home to his place came back with brand new shoes the very next day and asked for bus tickets again. I was getting angry and it showed in my face. A five-year old girl was observing me and came near . She said, “I thought you were kind, Father.” She was disappointed at my angry behavior. I explained, “This young man has to go home to his mother and I am trying to help him go home. He has no place here.” The little girl looked at me and said, “He can stay at my home”.

She got the religion medal on graduation day at our parochial school.