Recent scientific exploration of the Mayan civilisation in Guatemala, in South America, has uncovered things that were not expected. Previously all that could be seen was random ruins or ocassional temples, popping up from the forest undergrowth and peeking out from the trees, nothing else was thought to have survived. But laser analysis now shows us a clearer picture of many other things that have survived under this equatorial rainforest - 60,000 buildings have been discovered, 60 miles of roads that criss-cross uniting fields, towns and cities have been detected. It’s believed that the civilisation was destroyed by a mighty flood 1000 years ago and little was thought to have survived that terrible destruction. Recent pictures and laser analysis of the area that we now possess, however, shows us what this area once really looked like, the layout of buildings, streets, towns and the country and the thriving place it once was. What has also been discovered about this Mayan civilisation is that unlike any other of the tribes or civilisations, they had writings. From these writings it can be discovered what like was their life, their traditions and things that were important to them.
I wonder if it stretches the point to suggest that under the thick deep undergrowth of the centuries that has grown over the both the old and new testament passages, there is a meaning that lies waiting to be discovered too. Things that have grown over it pious thoughts, tangled ideas, wait to be stripped away to reveal a fresh terrain that we could never have known was there. Clearing away this undergrowth maybe we can visit ideas that inspired these early Christians which may have been lost, forgotten or just simply ignored and maybe these ideas can once again awaken thoughts and ideas in us.
That idea present in both the first reading and the Gospel reading that there are people outside the camp that are just as able to prophesy and just as able to heal and cast out devils as there are within the camp is an idea that seems to me an idea that waiting to be re-discovered and explored once again. And idea that is very powerful.
It seems to say or suggest that there are as many good people outside of the camp than there is inside. That there are many wise words outside than there is inside. That there are many people as good outside here as there are within. That people outside can do as much good as those within. That good can be found everywhere. That people can do great and wise and exceptional things, they are out there as much as they are in here.
That seems to me a very powerful idea that there is good everywhere and in everyone and maybe an idea that should cause us to think or shape the way that we look at things. But in a sense it is not such a great revolutionary idea and maybe something we have always known and carried around with us. Namely, that although God chooses to be present in some, it doesn’t mean he is not present in others. That although he chooses to give his grace to some, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exclude it from others.
But what the idea does do is to free up our thinking, instead of thinking everything is bad, we think that everything contains the potential for good and to do good . God chooses to be where he wishes to be, God’s goodness turns out not to be in the few but in the many and indeed in everyone.
He is working in everyone and in everything. He can give, for instance, the gift of prophecy to those he chooses and the gift of healing to those he picks, as we hear in the reading. How often we have heard prophetic and wise words come from people we didn’t expect. How often people have healed situations whom we didn’t think would be capable of it.
It’s something we know to be true. There are people who are unbelievers who are often much better than us. There are people who are unbelievers who are kinder, more charitable, more forgiving than us. God’s grace is in them, as much as it is in us and sometimes it seems more so.
Those people are our friends, people we work with, other members of our family, people who live in our street. It’s that sense in which the spirit blows where it wills. That God is not confined to the limits we place in him.
There is nothing worse than a closed mind. The closed mind cannot see, cannot understand, can only see things from one point of view. And maybe the idea that we are hearing in the reading is to have an open mind. A mind that sees God’s grace where it blows, capable to fall on whom he chooses.
The closed mind cannot see that. The closed mind is like the eye and the foot and the hand if today’s Gospel that turns out to be something that impedes and is an obstacle. Let not the closed mind be an obstacle to seeing good in others.
Under that dark undergrowth where the word of God lies. Cutting back those things that have grown over it is an idea that is very powerful. That we are surrounded by good and that huis goodness is communicated to us in ways and in people and in things that we did not expect it to be present.