My taxi driver the other day happened to be a young British Pakistani man that I knew in East Oxford when he was a little boy. In this week in which so much news has been filled with horror stories, from the blowing up of the Malaysian air liner by fanatics in the Ukraine to the threat by Extremist Muslims to execute Christians in Mosul; it was welcome and important for the survival of our planet to meet a devout Muslim who believed strongly that he should do all he possibly could to counteract the bad impression of Islam that the media so often presents by highlighting these extremists This young man had been inspired by a talk in London by Cat Stevens in which he emphasised that believers in Islam must hold as imperative their need to be educated in the faith as a means of combating ignorance and misinformation. He had been emphatic that this was not simply about their personal survival but that of good relations between east and west; and that it is the task of educated Muslims, (and also of course Christians), to know their faith and practise it properly.
Now what has this got to do with our Readings this Sunday? Quite a lot really, because St Paul in our 2nd Reading (Romans 8:28-30) makes it clear that God can make something of every effort we make for goodness and love however small. He writes “We know that by turning everything to their good God co-operates with all those who love him” So God can use the good will of my Muslim friend who clearly loves God because every little action of his, as of ours, makes a difference.
I was delighted to see another person I know via Facebook responding to his local church’s invitation to go and meet the local Muslims. Before he went, he had been expressing some rather anti-Islamic views, but he was bowled over by the welcome and kindness he was offered and has completely changed his tune. It is so easy to condemn others if they are different from us rather than exploring what they have to offer us in this strangely mixed up human world of ours.
Jesus brings this out in a different way in the fourth of the 4 parables in our Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52) It is worth remembering that these 4 parables were not originally spoke together as they appear now in the text. The Gospel writers were using material that came from the memories of those who lived with Jesus during his 3 years of public ministry. Each of these parables was probably given on a separate occasion and they therefore have different messages for us. Trying to get the same message from all four is a complete mistake. The first two are about how important, how precious the Kingdom of God is – like a great treasure or a precious pearl. The third is about how God allows the bad and the good to exist together as in the weeds and the wheat from last week. The fourth challenges the assumption that the message of Jesus is either old or new. He points out that it can be both, that God can take both old ideas and new ones and use them both in the building up of his kingdom. That is true wisdom, he sort of wisdom Solomon prayed for, in which God works in and through all sorts of things and all sorts of people, not just the people and the ideas we feel comfortable with.
Jesus is encouraging us to open our minds to everything that happens around us. Some Christians sadly would want to say that nothing good can come from a Muslim but when they do that they are as bad as extremist Muslims who think nothing good can come from anyone who is not a Muslim.
For me, it was a wonderful example of this truth as I heard this young Muslim taxi driver talking about all of us working together – Muslims and Christians and Jews – to build a better world