Wednesday of the First Week in Lent
Two weeks ago, on the fifth Wednesday of Ordinary Time, we heard about the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon. The Hebrew Scriptures, from Deuteronomy onward, are very sure of God's blessing, and that we have something greater here. Despite the fact that Solomon's reign -- the high point of Jerusalem's wealth, power and influence -- was not all that glorious; and that Solomon's kingdom couldn't hold a candle to the power, wealth and influence of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece or Rome; they still believed they were extraordinarily blessed by the Living Presence of God. They believed nations should come from the end of the earth to worship in their temple and study their wisdom.
Christians have inherited that confidence. It's reflected in the story of the magi who came from afar, seeking the newborn king of the Jews. Upon seeing him with Mary his Mother they were filled with joy and presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. It's reflected also in that most serious command, "Make disciples of all nations."
Saint Paul warned his Galatian disciples about another gospel in the strongest possible language. The "gospel of multiculturalism" might be called such, especially the doctrine that "We're all alike and everybody worships the same God." That teaching doesn't fit our faith; nor does it honor those who practice other religions.
Recently I read an article that said we should recognize the "faith" of Jews and Muslims, but faith is a Christian word. It assumes certain beliefs, enunciated by our creeds; and especially the Pauline doctrine of "salvation by faith." Jews observe the Law of Moses. Muslims practice Islam, meaning submission. There are strong resemblances in these words but not many Christians would insist upon "observing the Law" and fewer Christians or Jews would say they practice submission. Faith, observance and submission have very different resonances to these "Abrahamic" religions.
Buddhist, Shinto, Hindu, Native American and traditional African religions are even more unlike Christianity. If we attempt to describe their beliefs, removed from their rituals, customs, practices, ethos, food and daily practices, we misinterpret them entirely. Only Christians, with our creeds, would dare to describe religion as a "belief system."
In fact, from my reading, I am hard pressed to say if the word religion can actually describe all the "religions" of the world, much less the many gods and the rituals that call upon those gods. The Buddhist "religion," for instance, has no god although it honors Siddhartha Buddha as the holiest of men.
The "gospel of multiculturalism" is sorely misguided; it threatens the blessing of our gospel, disrespects the sensibilities and pieties of other people, and sabotages the duty we have to announce our Joy to the world.
Our zeal, however, does not begin with the conviction that we're right and everyone else is wrong. It must draw upon a much deeper source of gratitude for God's mercy -- a mercy given to undeserving, indeed disreputable sinners. When I consider my sins I realize I have no right to speak to anyone of God; I can do so only by God's commission, with thankfulness and enormous reverence.
I know how deeply attached I have been to my opinions, habits, fears and resentments; I know how reluctant others might be to reconsider their ways or hear a new Word from God. If I say anything of my faith it's by invitation from those who might want to hear, for as long as they want to hear.
If we respect others as Jesus has respected us, if we care for others as Jesus cared for us, they will come to us as the Queen of Sheba travelled to Jerusalem to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And they will find a greater than Solomon here.