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26th Sunday

Participants in the reality television show “Survivor Philippines (Palau)” are divided into two competing groups. Members of each group form bonds with each other through difficult challenges they undergo and through the daily routine of living together. They have only one goal each week – to beat the other group in a challenge that will give them immunity. When the host announced one day that some members would be exchanged with the rival group, there was dread on the faces of the contestants. The participants simply did not want to join the other group.

The gospel today shows how this same cohesion and attachment are alive among the band of the apostles. We see how successful the disciples of Jesus were in forming unity among themselves. They lived together under the leadership of the Master. They became friends with each other, familiar and comfortable in each other’s presence. But there was a problem that this kind of unity entailed. The apostles developed the attitude of exclusivity and elitism. As soon as they heard that somebody unknown to the group was using Jesus’ name to expel demons, they wanted to put a stop to the person’s ministry. In their mind, only they were the “official” apostles.

At this the Lord comes to teach a valuable lesson. The words Jesus speaks are inclusive rather than exclusive: “Do not try to stop him… Anyone who is not against us is with us.” This shows how broad and spacious is the heart of Jesus and the saving designs of His Father. The disciples needed to develop graciousness and generosity towards their neighbors. Jesus’ response manifests once again how different God’s ways are from our natural inclinations and preferences.

How can we not see the apostles’ attitude in our own lives today? More than reality tv, our own experiences show how much we value only our particular groups, our cliques, our gangs, our families. We jealously guard ourselves from the intrusion or influence of other people. We easily develop an exclusive mindset, unwilling to expose ourselves to other people’s possible contributions to our lives. In an age of globalization, we tend to live in narrow worlds and move in limited confines.

It is not surprising that Filipinos abroad form alliances based on their regional or language group back home. I have celebrated Mass for Bisayan communities, Batangueno communities or purely Tagalog associations.

Let us not even look at our people abroad. Where we are, we see how we prefer to work only with like-minded people. A dissenting vote is seen as an annoyance that must be eliminated or subdued. In politics, business, academe and even in the Church, the same, old faces are tapped and utilized for projects and programs. We have a long way to go in realizing that if we open our hearts and minds, we will discover so many treasures and talents in other people who are only waiting to be invited, heard and appreciated.

Jesus has his own version of “Survivors”. We survive with others and not against them. Break free from your exclusive mindset and be enriched by others’ influence in your life. Like Jesus, be open and be richly blessed!