September 27, 2009

Building Bridges

26th Sunday in the Ordinary Time
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 "Do not prevent him…For whoever is not against us is for us.”

The gospel today starts with John reporting to Jesus that a man is exorcising demons in His name yet the man is not a disciple. Instead of being alarmed, Jesus simply said, “Anyone who gives a cup of water to drink will surely not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:41). The disciples, who are unconsciously developing “religious elitism”, are surprised to hear Jesus’ response. They thought that preaching the good news, healing the sick, and exorcising demons are exclusively reserve to the disciples.

The first reading tells us the same story. A young man complained to Moses that two men, Eldad and Medad, are prophesying in the Israelites’ camp even without being formally authorized by the Spirit. Like Jesus, Moses answered the man, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets?" (Numbers 11:29)

In our ever changing world that moves closer to “global community,” we are compelled to build bridges with our brothers and sisters of different faith and religion. Today we cannot exclusively claim that Christianity is the only religion where God reveals Himself. Evangelization should take a different mode to respond to the signs of times. Now, it is not merely the propagation of our Christian faith, but allowing our faith to manifest through active engagement in the different challenges and issues of the modern world. Our faith challenges us to love inclusively and promote bridging religions, cultures, and people.

Visiting Cambodia many years ago, I was exposed to Jesuits working closely with their Buddhist lay partners. Aware of their cultural and religious diversities but united in their desire to help the poorest of the poor of Cambodia, they visit far-flung villages all over the country to assist victims of mines and war. Indeed, love can build bridges within us.

Recently, I received a clipping from New York entitled “Zamboanga.” Interestingly, the article sees Zamboanga as the cradle of inter-religious dialogue in Mindanao. It cites the city’s unique multi-cultural environment where Christians and Muslims alike have learned to respect and co-exist peacefully. In the never-ending conflict between MILF and government troops, majority will agree that is not a religious issue but political. The solution is in us – Christians and Muslims alike should build bridges to each other through respect, sensitivity and acceptance. We need to transcend our deeply rooted biases and prejudices and begin recognizing and appreciating each others’ uniqueness and differences. Appreciation of each other’s belief and religious practices will certainly lead us to discover God’s presence with one another. Do I see a brother in every Muslim I meet?

A week ago, the Campus Ministry Office and the Muslim Students Association of Ateneo de Zamboanga sponsored the annual “Grand Pagbuka” (A festive Muslim tradition of ending Ramadan). To see Christian students, teachers, and even Jesuits joining the celebration console and inspire everybody. It’s building bridges in action! The inter-religious dialogue is gaining grounds in Ateneo de Zamboanga University, but the journey is still a long way to go. We need more “bridge builders” to push this ever challenging and peace-promoting frontier.

Let’s open our eyes. Let’s change our understanding of evangelization and the meaning of discipleship in our present context. That is, to see God in all people!

“We must cultivate optimism and hope. Inter-religious dialogue can not be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends”.
- Pope Benedict XVI

- Fr.Willy M. Samson,SJ

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