What is good is good

‘What is good is good; people don’t add salt to milk.’ This Shona saying builds a bridge across great gulfs that can often divide people. They may have their differences but they recognise actions that go beyond those differences. When Christian monks settled among Muslim people in Algeria their aim was not to convert them but to share life with them.

One monk had medical knowledge, another kept bees and a third had experience in state bureaucracy. They put their simple skills at the service of the people among whom they lived, with the result that relationships were built and understanding established.

When extreme people gained influence in the country in the 1990s all these painfully built relationships were shattered and most of the monks were murdered. But their gentle presence was remembered and the Muslim people struggled to rebuild a peaceful mutually respectful society anew.

People recognise something good when they see it – but something within us makes us jealous when we see ‘others’ doing it.

When Moses shared his leadership role with the 70 elders (Numbers 11) there were two others who just turned up uninvited and joined the new group. Joshua was unimpressed but Moses rebuked him, ‘are you jealous on my account?

Would that the Lord gave his Spirit to all the people!’ This showed an amazing freedom in Moses. He rejected the idea that society is made up of the leaders and the led. Everyone has to take part according to whatever gifts they have.

There is a similar incident in Mark’s gospel (Ch. 9) where John objects to someone acting ‘in your name’ when he is not ‘one of us.’ This time it is Jesus who reacts: ‘anyone who is not against us is for us.’ What difference does it make who does a good thing so long as it is done! We can be quite jealous of others even when they are doing something good. When President Obama was trying to introduce health care in the US he was opposed by the opposition Republicans.

But in fact it was the Republicans who first tried to pass such legislation 40 years ago and they were opposed by the Democrats who felt it was their job to introduce such a programme. It was not whether health care was a good thing or not but who would get the credit for establishing it.

We are called to go beyond such small mindedness. If you are dying of thirst in the desert does it matter who offers you a cup of water?

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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