“Provincial or Universal” is my follow up to my “Story of the Frog in the Well” and fits well into my theme “In Search of moderation” (Philippians 4:5). I wondered sometimes if St. Paul, a Hellenistic Jew, who also spoke and wrote in Greek, did ever muse on the popular theory of Aristotle’s Golden Means, particularly when he was writing to the Philippians? I emphasize this because Moderation is not Mediocrity, but the balance of all virtues. Some translations wrote moderation as “considerate” or “gentleness”.
Let me read a Scripture verse. John said to Jesus: “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group”. But Jesus said “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you” – a popular proverb of that time (John 9:49-50 NLT).
What was John thinking? I call it “provincial”. His report to the Master was honest, though not tasteful. When I read it, I questioned myself. Didn’t I, as a young Christian, behave just like John? And still do sometimes? I am sure I am not alone on this. We all can learn just by watching hot-headed party spirit on TV during the election year! One can even jump out of a well, and alas, quickly fall into another!
John, possibly a cousin of Jesus, as his mother Salome might have been the sister of Mary, behaved like the true son of “thunder”. At one time, John with his brother James, was ready to call fire from heaven to destroy those inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:54-55). He even elicited Elijah calling fire from heaven to substantiate his provincial views.
There is a remarkable story in the Old Testament very similar to that of John. The Israelites were complaining and whining again, this time for the monotonous supply of manna, and wanting meat instead. Moses called his Seventy Elders and stationed them around the tabernacle to hear from God. God suddenly gave the seventy the same spirit as Moses and they started prophesying. But two men, Eldad and Medad, remained at their tent. Strangely, these two prophesied right where they were! A young man who heard it ran to report this to young Joshua. Joshua, just like John, approached Moses to stop it. This is what Moses said: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them all” (Numbers 11:24-29).
Jesus was fully cognizant of the danger of shrinking the universality of his message by making it parochial, from broad to narrow, just as the frog in the well. He utilized every occasion to emphasize it to the disciples. The disciples carried this same message abroad, across the seas from the very first century. They overcame serious divisions, social, gender, even dietary.
Some took longer to grasp the significance as Peter confessed later “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT).
I need to emphasize one important factor. Universality does not mean ecumenical patchwork, overwhelming accommodation – becoming all things to all men. While the invitation to grace is universal and the compassion unbound, Jesus balanced this virtue with persistence and discipline. He insisted that “no man can serve two masters”. He made it clear that “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up the cross and follow me”. There was no place, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, no room for any “cheap grace”.
The same John, as an old man, wrote with certainty “God is love” and also “God so loved the world”. The same young Joshua who at one time protested to ordinary people prophesying himself became the leader and led the people to the promised land. Both Young Joshua and John were good but raw apples needing a lot of sunshine. And ripen they did! And ripen we should!
God bless, Danny Paul