“Anyone who is not against us is for us”
by Fr Dominic Binh Viet Nguyen
John and the Eleven have been chosen by Jesus to be the Apostles. Yet they have many things to learn from their master. For example, they failed to recognise who are against them and who are for them as they tried to stop a man who is not one of them casting out devils in Jesus’ name. They thought Jesus would be very pleased when listening to their story. In fact, Jesus reacted in another way round, telling them not to stop the man just because he is not one of them.
John and some others failed to recognise that as Christians, we are all called to be the disciples or followers of Jesus. Each one of us has a unique way of proclaiming the Kingdom of God according to our own callings. We don’t have to be priests or religious in order to spread the Good News of the love of God to our sisters and brothers.
Reflecting on our lives, we might experience that there are times when we act like John and other disciples in today Gospel. We refuse to accept the good deeds of others just because they do not belong to our group, because they are from different countries, because we dislike them, or because they are better than us.
Saint Paul in the letter to the Ephesians reminds us that,
“Each one of us, has been given Jesus’ own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. To some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ.”
Therefore,we must be aware of the work of the devils in our lives as they always try to destroy our harmony, our good relationship, and our love for one another.
We pray to the Lord that we may talk to Him constantly about what have happened, what we have done in our lives and ask Him for his wisdom and guidance. Amen
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Numbers 11:25-29
The Lord came down in the Cloud. He spoke with Moses, but took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the spirit came on them they prophesied, but not again.
Two men had stayed back in the camp; one was called Eldad and the other Medad. The spirit came down on them; though they had not gone to the Tent, their names were enrolled among the rest. These began to prophesy in the camp. The young man ran to tell this to Moses, ‘Look,’ he said ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then said Joshua the son of Nun, who had served Moses from his youth, ‘My Lord Moses, stop them!’ Moses answered him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!’
Does God confine the gift of his Spirit only to authorised channels? That is the question that arises from today’s first reading (and from the gospel). During a period of recurring complaint and rebellion Moses had appointed seventy elders to help him carry the burden of governing 600,000 people making their way through the wilderness. These elders were given a share in the same Spirit that guided Moses and they began to prophesy. Later, the same Spirit fell on two others, Eldad and Medad, who were not part of that group of elders. Joshua, Moses’ young aide, wanted Moses to stop Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp but Moses refused saying: Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all! Moses learnt to let God be God. What about us? Are we, like Joshua, people who try to control God’s Spirit or people open like Moses to the Spirit’s transfiguring fire?
LORD, Adonai, you poured out your Spirit on the seventy elders chosen by Moses. Then you unexpectedly led Eldad and Medad to prophesy. Your Spirit gloriously overflows in the world! Surprise us, too, and pour out your Spirit on us. Surprise your Church in new and exciting ways. Raise up prophets! Let your Spirit-Wind blow through our minds and hearts today. Cleanse and renew your Church! Calm rebellious spirits! Call forth leaders after your own heart! Put new Spirit-fire in us, in our faith, our actions and our lives! Fan your wisdom and light into bright and radiant flame! Heal our trust in your compassion and love. Now and forever. Amen.
Part of a longer poem that begins with nature’ unheard voice praising God, the verses chosen for our psalm today rejoice in the wisdom of God’s living word. The living word gives joy to the heart, refreshes the soul, and brings with it the transforming power of holy wisdom. The living word is true and just, awesome, glorious and eternal: more precious than gold…sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. It cleanses us from unknown sins and wanton deeds: But who can discern their own errors?Forgive my hidden faults.It brings with it the gift of self-control and self-restraint and shows us how to walk with integrity in God’s sacred way. Are we ready to sit with and meditate on the living word? Do we understand that God’s word can be a transfiguring power in our lives? Do we ever ask ourselves what stops God’s wordbeing joy and happiness to us?
LORD, Adonai, may your living word give joy to my heart today! May it refresh my soul and bathe me in the transforming power of your holy wisdom! Your living word is true and just! It is awesome, glorious and eternal! May it be on my lips like honey from the comb!LORD, touch each member of my family, my circle of friends, with your living word today. Let it bring joy to our spirits! May it be a boost to our souls. Cleanse us in the pure waters of your awesome word. Liberate us in your living truth. Free us from our hidden faults, our unknown and unacknowledged failings. Give us the gifts of willing self-control and glad self-restraint. Make us aware of the impacts of our dark and shadow selves as we seek to walk ever more mindfully in the bright ways of your truth and light. Remind us again today that your life-giving word lives and sings in the world through us. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – James 5:1-6
An answer for the rich. Start crying, weep for the miseries that are coming to you. Your wealth is all rotting, your clothes are all eaten up by moths. All your gold and your silver are corroding away, and the same corrosion will be your own sentence, and eat into your body. It was a burning fire that you stored up as your treasure for the last days. Labourers mowed your fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realise that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. On earth you have had a life of comfort and luxury; in the time of slaughter you went on eating to your heart’s content. It was you who condemned the innocent and killed them; they offered you no resistance.
Today we are invited to meditate on the powerful exhortation James addresses to the Christians of his day, especially the wealthy. He is concerned with the consequences of exploitation and unjust management of wealth. Check out the blessings recorded in Genesis 49:20 (Asher’s produce is rich, and he shall furnish delicacies for kings. See also verses 25-26). Then compare them with the destructive outcomes of corrupt business practices outlined in today’s reading. The contrast is immense. Are we reaping similar consequences in trade wars today? Are we weeping and wailing over impending miseries? What can we do? Are we ready to take prophetic stances in the search for a truly just and fair society? Are we ready to be bearers of blessing to those around us, even in wise silence?
Lord Jesus, injustice and unfairness cry out to you. Remind us today that exploitation and oppression always bring personal and social corrosion in their wake. I lift up to you all who are suffering because of other people’s greed and self-indulgence. I pray for all who are bowed down by the weight of poverty and destitution caused by human injustice and corruption. I pray for children labouring in sweatshops. I pray for all who are living under pervert dictatorships. I pray for the victims of human trafficking. I pray for all whose dignity has been betrayed. I pray for a more just world. I pray that politicians may find ways beyond trade wars, violence, and crooked practices. May I be the change I pray for today! May my actions speak and my words bring healing! Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.
‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was teaching his disciples. He had already rebuked their weakness in faith describing them as an unbelieving generation. Now he began to teach them about humility in service taking a little child as his example. His message is, anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. It is at this point that we begin today’s passage. Note what happens. It is as if John interrupts Jesus, drawing attention to himself. It is as if he is trying to change the subject, as if he is resisting what Jesus is trying to say. Try an experiment. Open your Bible and read Mark 9:35-37, then skip John’s story and Jesus’ reply about the cup of water to read verses 42-48. The message is clear: to forbid the exorcist is akin to making a little one stumble! In our day the Church has colluded with much suffering among the little ones and the vulnerable and needs to meditate long and hard on Mark’s teaching. Are we open-minded disciples on the way who understand the paradox of the child or mean-spirited disciples getting in people’s way? Are we approachable, truly open to Jesus’ way or are we seeking to impose our own more rigid and exclusive visions? Or do we continue to collude with corruption and cover-up? The time for changing the subject like John is long over!
Lord Jesus, there are so many aspects of your teaching I find difficult, that I resist or misunderstand like John and your other disciples. There are so many voices in the world that cause me to hide my faith in you. And then there is my pride, my desire for power and control. There are so many ways self-will and fear betray my desire to live in your light and walk in your radiant way. You want all of us to reach out a willing helping hand. You speak of the cup of water, the piece of bread, the encouraging smile, the coins we can spare. You want us to be salt not obstacles, open not closed. You want us to care for the needy and a ravaged earth. You call us to stand for justice, to shelter the homeless, and care for the refugee. Open my heart to all of these. Help me to work with all who, knowingly or unknowingly, share your vision in the world. Help me to be your disciple in creative ways. Help me to be a bearer of your love and blessing to everyone and every situation I meet. Most of all, help me recognise when I am getting in your way. Now and forever. Amen.
Listening to today’s gospel, we are bound to feel a bit perplexed, just as the first disciples were perplexed when they heard these words of Jesus for the first time. We are unable to comprehend a Jesus who demands tolerance and respect for people who, even though they were not his disciples, were working in his name and usurping his authority. Then, immediately afterwards, he expects from his disciples a level of intolerance towards themselves that is almost the equivalent of suicide. Only if we get over this surprise, will we be able to understand the position of Jesus and his reasoning, and – with God’s help – put it into practice in our own lives.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus was faced yet again with the followers’ failure to understand (Mk 9, 3), when he told them, for the second time, about his forthcoming passion (Mk 9, 31). The disciples’ incomprehension gave the Master an opportunity to teach a very demanding lesson: to be a disciple means to be willing to serve all and to sacrifice oneself for others. Our text is part of a discourse of Jesus to his disciples in which we can see two separate themes: the tolerance of Jesus towards those who, even though they are not his disciples, do good in his name and claim his authority (Mk 9, 38-40); and the conditions to be observed by all who want to enter the Kingdom of God (Mk 9, 41-48).
The episode of the exorcist who was not one of Jesus’ disciples but claimed his authority nevertheless, is somewhat surprising. Not only because it gave Jesus the opportunity to show extraordinary tolerance, but also because, just a short time previously, his own disciples had failed when they tried to cast out an evil spirit from a young man (Mk 9, 14-29). Jesus is happy that someone continue to do good to others, even if he is not one of his disciples. The reason he gives is interesting: anyone who does good in his name will not speak evil of him. Doing good, then, is equivalent to being on the side of Jesus, even if one is not yet a disciple. In a way, Jesus prefers someone who does good to others to one who is his follower. He is speaking to one of his disciples and, so that they will not feel cheated, he promises a reward to anyone who does good to one to them. Even a cup of water given to one of his disciples will not go unrewarded.
In addition to promising a reward to anyone who does good to the disciples, Jesus condemns severely anyone who does evil. The little ones who believe in him are the most vulnerable of his disciples – the innocent ones who have been entrusted to him, the least important and least respected in society. Coming to their defence in such a forceful way, Jesus takes the side of the weakest of his disciples and those most at risk. With typical eastern hyperbole, he declares that it would be better for the guilty one to drown in the sea. That is how serious a crime it is to lead one of these weak and vulnerable disciples astray. To illustrate further the gravity of the scandal, he repeats three times that it would be better to cut off the cause of the scandal (Mk 9, 43: the hand; 9,45: foot; 9,47: eye) than to face eternal perdition. We should note carefully that Jesus is not speaking about sins actually committed but simply about the occasions of sin. The faith of the most insignificant of his disciples matters so much to Jesus that he declares the most severe punishment to those who endanger it. Anyone who endangers the fidelity of those who put their trust in Jesus is endangering his own salvation.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
Jesus warns against intolerance towards others, even if they are not as good as we are, and demands that we exercise intolerance towards ourselves instead. Zeal for Jesus can never be a reason for zeal against a neighbour, but following Jesus does include denial of oneself in order to be totally conformed to Him. As his disciples we need to remember his teaching – demonizing others does not make us better! The only intolerance that Jesus permits his followers is that which is directed towards the evil that is in their midst, evil that has taken root and found a home in their hearts. Anyone who persecutes others is not fit to be his disciple. It was reasonable enough for his disciples to think that it was wrong for anybody apart from them to do good in his name and with his power. If even a stranger could do the works of Jesus, what advantage was it for them to be his friends and companions? What right had others to use his name if they did not share his way of life and the hard work of preaching, day after day? If it is not necessary to follow Jesus day and night, in order to do good, were they not making a mistake in choosing to follow him? Bringing about a better world and healing people in Jesus’ name should be the work only of those who lived with him. Their hard work and the things they had given up meant nothing if anyone at all could do their work.
That is how the followers of Jesus thought. We are not impressed by these disciples who failed to understand that it was all right to use the Master’s name to do good, even without being his disciple. We make a great effort to follow Jesus, sometimes without great success, and we also find it hard to understand that there are people who do good in this world, good that is willed by God and done in his name, without being disciples like us. Like John, we are reluctant to accept that others who are not followers of Jesus can do good. There are people who do not strive to follow Jesus but fight successfully against evil nonetheless. We would like to think we have an exclusive claim on the power of Jesus over evil, simply because we have given him power over our lives. Just because we want God to deliver us from evil, we think we are the only ones capable of fighting against evil.
Jesus’ reply indicates a temptation that faces “good” disciples and can often lead them to sin: intransigence, intolerance towards people who differ from them, who are not followers of Jesus and who do not think like disciples. Jesus reminds the disciples of today that he is still more concerned that people do good in his name, and that the evil in the world be confronted, than he is that his followers be the people doing good. It is not that he does not expect of us that we do good, as indeed he has told us to, but because he still loves the world more than we do. He wants to do more good than we can even think of or realize, and so he allows many to do good, including many who are not among his disciples. The fact that others do good in the world may surprise or displease us, and it should shame us into doing more good. For Jesus, what is important is that anyone who is combating evil should not declare himself opposed to Jesus, nor consider himself his enemy. It does not matter whether he is one of his disciples, provided he is doing good in Jesus’ name and under his inspiration.
In a pluralist society like ours, where many are not believers, today’s gospel may sound particularly harsh, almost incomprehensible, to people who are trying to follow Jesus and to do good in his name to those who need it. We should not abandon our duty to fight against evil in all its forms, but the gospel insists that we must accept the good that others do, even though they are not among his followers. It often happens that we believers think that we are the only ones who fight against evil. Perhaps without realizing it, we have developed a sense of belonging to a group, and we are unable to accept others who do not belong to our group. Little by little – and the history of the Church bears witness to this – we become convinced that Christians are more important than Christ. We easily become too enthusiastic, thinking that our successes are God’s, and our failures are his too.
If we truly want to be disciples of Jesus today, we will have to accept that not all the goodness in the world comes from our actions. We will have to learn to live with other people, who are not of our group, but nonetheless fight against evil, at least as much as we do. As disciples of Christ, who live according to his gospel, and seek to do good in his name, we should rejoice that others do the same good and fight the same fight against evil, in the name of Jesus Christ. We should be happy that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, inspires others whom we, by the way we live our Christian lives, have not been able to inspire. As disciples of Jesus we should be proud that the name of Jesus, his life and his ideas, inspire people that we have not been able to convince by our lives and our ideals.
Jesus insisted that his disciples show tolerance and respect for those who were not yet his disciples but were working in his name. It is all the more surprising, then, that, immediately afterwards, he displays such radical intolerance, telling his disciples to cut off their hand or foot if they cause them to sin or become an obstacle to others. It might help us to understand this brusque change if we remember that Jesus wanted his disciples to allow others to do good in his name, whether they were disciples or not, and he ordered them not to do evil, even if this meant that they had to deny themselves. The Christian knows that he should seek his brother’s good, and especially the good of the smallest and weakest, before his own bodily integrity. To avoid putting in danger any believer’s faith or fidelity to Christ, however insignificant the person might seem to be, the disciple of Christ must be willing to risk even his own body. Our hand or foot or eye are not worth more than our faith in Christ. Our bodily integrity is not as important as the fidelity of our brothers. We must be prepared to sacrifice our own body rather than risk losing our brother.
What Jesus demands is no small thing. When we think about it, it seems too much. It is far more than any of us would be prepared to concede. If we are happy to continue living our faith peacefully as we are, it is because we have not understood Jesus. Who among us is prepared to risk his life if we have become an obstacle to the faith of another? Would we not admit now, before God, that we are prepared to pay any price to save our own life, our business and our future? And do we not do this without worrying too much about scandalizing the weak? The fire of hell is the fate that awaits the one who loves himself and his own body, whilst endangering his brother who is weak. We should not forget that!