Commentary on Numbers 11:25-29 James 5:1-6 Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
SOME IMPORTANT ISSUES are raised in today’s readings. The Gospel consists of three separate pieces but they are in fact closely linked with each other and with the First Reading.
The disciples are not at all happy because they saw a man — who was not a disciple — cast out evil spirits. They are quite jealous obviously. They realise that they are in quite a privileged position in being closely associated with Jesus. They have even been given the privilege of sharing Jesus’ powers of healing and driving out evil spirits.
Now they see a complete stranger, one who has nothing to do with their Master, doing the same thing. He may even be using the name of Jesus to exorcise. They are indignant. They are angry. They even try to stop the man — from doing a good thing.
But Jesus tells them: "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." It is very easy for a chosen group to become elitist, to claim for itself a monopoly of doing good.
Where is God?
We Christians believe that the Church is God’s special way of revealing himself to the world. But we really cannot go on to claim that therefore God is only to be found in the Church. That in our Church alone is there Truth and Goodness. To be honest, we have tended in the past to give that impression.
Within the Church, too, there have always been groups — and they are still among us — that feel they have something that no one else has. That only they are in possession of God’s Truth, that only among their ranks can people be "saved". They often exert a good deal of their energies trying to prove that other groups or even the rest of the Church is deeply in error.
But if that were the case, then millions of people would be excluded from knowing or loving God or from doing his will. Should we say, for instance, because the majority of people in Asia or Africa are not Christian, that they have no hope in life, that they are all wicked people, condemned to eternal damnation?
A little experience of mixing with non-Christians in any society soon tells us that God is doing his work through all kinds of people and that many of them are very good. Perhaps those people believe in another religion or belong to no recognized religious grouping. Yet, they believe — in a way that can shame us Catholics — in the importance of truth, justice, love, service freedom, peace and non-violence.
Good people everywhere
In any government there are many good, dedicated and patently honest people who really serve the public. They really are public servants. Similarly, there are outstanding doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen who are sincerely "in search of excellence" and have a true "passion for excellence". There are many in our society committed to improving the quality of life.
During the many catastrophes — natural and man-made — that have struck our own and other parts of the world, we find people of faiths and of none donating very large sums of money.
Every year at fund-raising events, thousands of people come to help welfare and charity services run by the Catholic Church or by other religious groups, irrespective of their own religions convictions. "If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, he most certainly will not lose his reward." These people often give to us Christians — and through us to the needy — far more than a cup of cool water. Surely God is present and working through all such people. And we can be sure that God will reach them in his own way.
What is of greater relevance to us is whether we Christians are really doing God’s work. Just because we have the name of Christian is no guarantee that we are.
Keeping people away from God
Today’s Gospel moves on 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. It is regarded by Jesus as a most serious form of sinfulness.
The word "scandal" means originally a stumbling block, like a large stone in a person’s way that causes him to trip and fall. Am I a stumbling block to those who might be in search of Jesus or his Church? For instance, would any person want to be a Christian because they know me? What kind of impression of Christian life or of the Church do I present to others?
Have we not heard people say, "I would not want to be a Christian. They are just like everyone else I know: they gossip, they tell lies, they cheat, they are greedy for money, they take revenge…" Non-Christians often have strange ideas about God, about Jesus, about Mary, about the Church. Where did they get those ideas from? What kind of image of Jesus do we present as parents, as teachers, as employers or superiors, as working colleagues?
Where there is love, there is God
So today’s readings are basically saying two things:
On the one hand, we have to learn to recognise that God can do his work through all kinds of people. St John, in his First Letter, says very bluntly: "Wherever there is a caring love (agape, ) there is God." Christians clearly have no monopoly on loving others. And 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. And so on…
On the other hand, as a Christian, through my baptism, I have been called, it is my vocation, to be for others another Christ. Far from being jealous of the good that others do, we need to hear the words of Moses today: "If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all."
We may get some indication of where we stand if we listen carefully to the scathing words of James in the Second Reading. What are our attitudes to wealth and poverty? To luxury side by side with indigence? To the glaring inequities between countries’ standards of living?
I am called not only to be for myself a good person. I am called to reach out, to love, to be just to others, to be fully free with and for others, to be truly brother or sister. I am 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.
Commentary on Numbers 11:25-29 James 5:1-6 Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48