HOMILY: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” 39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
To-day’s Gospel is firstly a story of possessiveness. The disciples are not at all happy because they saw a man — not one of their group — cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. They were quite upset, perhaps possessive. They were given the privilege of sharing Jesus’ powers of healing and driving out evil spirits. They were possessive of their position. Their response showed they were NOT into sharing their ministry. They even tried to stop the man — from doing a good thing in the name of Jesus.
We must always remember Jesus’ response. “You must not stop him: Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Historically Christians have forgotten, disregarded or ignored this message. Catholics and Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox, have even waged war on each other because of their allegiance to their particular Christian tradition. Many of us were raised where there was conflict between Christians of different traditions. I remember it. Jesus’ response was forgotten.
As Catholics we cannot claim to have a monopoly of doing good. As Christians we believe that the Church is God’s special way of revealing himself to the world. However we cannot then go on to claim that God is only to be found in the Church; that in our Church alone is there Truth and Goodness. If that were the case, then billions of people would be excluded from knowing or loving God or from doing his will. We know this not to be true, and contrary to God’s love for all of us.
Living in a society, like our own, tells us that God is doing his work through all kinds of people, good people. They believe in the importance of truth, justice, love, service freedom, peace. They practice the kingdom of God without knowing it. God is present and working through all such people. We can be sure that God will reach them in his own way. Remember we are called to be members of the Kingdom that embraces all who proclaim the Good News.
Today’s Gospel also moves to a much more relevant problem as far as we Christians are concerned. There is a severe warning against those who prevent people from coming closer to God. The word “scandal” originally means “a stumbling block”, like a large stone in a person’s way that causes him or her to trip and fall. Jesus to-day refers to ‘stumbling’. We have to ask ourselves, “Am I a stumbling block? Am I a cause of scandal? Would any person want to be a Christian because they know me?
So today’s readings are basically saying two things:
Firstly, we have to learn to recognise that God does his work through all kinds of people. Our parish patron, in his First Letter of John (4:8), says very bluntly: “Wherever there is a caring love (agape,) there is God.” Christians clearly have no monopoly on loving others. We can add that wherever there is true justice being practised, there is God; wherever there is true freedom being promoted or defended, there is God; wherever there is a person, perhaps a total stranger from another race or culture, who acts as a true brother or sister to me, there is God.
Secondly, as a Christian, through my baptism, we have been called to be for others another Christ. That is our Mission. We are called to reach out, to love, to be just to others, and to be truly sister or brother. We are also called to be a prophet, to proclaim in words and actions that the Source of all love, justice, freedom and solidarity with others is a God who loves, who forgives and who wants all to share in a life that is enriched on every level.
Archbishop Peter in his call to Mission, has asked every parish to examine its collective conscience. Are we witnessing the gospel? Are we reaching out to those in our community who need a helping hand, or who have removed themselves from our community or who don’t really understand why we exist. Many of us know someone who has left the Church. Some of us know why. Are we reaching out?
The Archbishop calls us to pray and discern how to go forward. Many of the parishes in southern Melbourne are small communities with limited resources. We are one of those. Could more cooperation with neighbouring parishes enable us to reach out more effectively to others in our community? I leave you with the question: what will I do?
Deacon Kevin Pattison