Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Exclusive is Your Religious Club?

The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

At that time, John said to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

When I was a young child, I can remember being taught that there was no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Back in the 60’s we were even told that we shouldn’t walk past a public school on our way home because some sort of temptation lurked there and we might lose our immortal soul. God forbid we should enter a Protestant Church! This had come to a head for me when I wanted to join the brownie scouts. The only brownie meeting was held in the basement of a Protestant church – I don’t even remember today what kind of church it was. I had to really fight with myself to go to that first meeting. I remember that part of the meeting was the Lord’s prayer, and that they tacked on an ending to it that I had never heard before. I remember being frightened that saying a prayer with them, I was leaving my soul open to immortal flames.

 As an adult, I look on all this as quite ridiculous, but it was the culture many of us were brought up in, in the 50’s and 60’s. I wish I had been taught differently and to be a bit more open, but I think that is the tendency of all organized things – to think they are the best and that anyone not with them is against them.

Jesus’ disciples were no different. John was upset that someone who was not of their group had been seen driving out demons in Jesus’ name. It is interesting to note that even this early – remember, Mark’s Gospel was the first – Mark has John say that the man driving out demons was not following “US”. He didn’t say, not following Jesus. he said not following “US”. Even at that early time, there was an identity established, that the disciples felt that they had authority and only anyone acting under their authority could do Jesus’ work. Sounds very similar to what I was taught in elementary school, doesn’t it?

Yet Jesus’ answer to them is quite revealing. It is reminiscent of the Bible story that we first heard today from Leviticus. Even in Moses’ time, the idea of exclusiveness was there. The group of chosen men who went with Moses to the mountain were upset because someone who was not one of them was doing prophecy. Moses’ reply to them was “Stop being so jealous that outsiders can prophesy as well as you. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could be a prophet that God’s spirit could descend on everyone!

Jesus’ reply to the disciples echoes these very words of Moses: Don’t stop this man from casting out devils in my name. If he is casting them out in my name, then he is my friend and will not be able to speak badly of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” This saying gets reversed and the meaning changes somewhat in Matthew when Matthew has Jesus: Whoever is not with me is against me. You can see how that changes the original message of Mark quite a bit.

It is also interesting to me, historically, that by the time Acts was written, we see an example of someone trying to cast out devils in Jesus name was not successful. Had exclusivity surfaced this early in the newly formed Church?

In any case, Jesus seems to be stressing here that” there is no place for exclusivism among those who invoke the name of Jesus”. Jesus finishes by saying that anyone who does a good deed in his name will be rewarded for it. These words should certainly help us in our understanding of other Christian faiths in relation to our own Apostolic Catholic faith. Our father’s house has many rooms!

The second part of the readings today return to the teachings of Jesus. The Gospel especially is worded quite strongly and any literalist had better beware. Jesus is trying to make a point and so he uses a device called hyperbole. However, before we get to that, Jesus first talks about scandal, especially the scandal of children or vulnerable people. He minces no words when it comes to talking about sin. According to the Catholic catechism, scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. (2284-85) Jesus uses hyperbole here – exaggeration – to make his point. The person who scandalizes might better have a millstone tied to his neck and be thrown into the sea. Drowning was often a Biblical punishment for God’s enemies, remember. Think of Pharaoh and his armies in the Red Sea.

 Then Jesus goes on with even greater hyperbole. Jesus’ thought moves from ‘scandal of another’, to things personal which can cause one to sin. If any part of the body leads one to sin, cut it off. While he does not mean this literally, we can think of times when it would be literal. For example many people have had amputations when a limb’s disease threatened the whole body. In order to live there had to be an amputation. In this context, Jesus is reiterating what the new kingdom will be like, and sin is not an acceptable entry into the kingdom. We must avoid things which lead us in to sin just as we must avoid leading others into sin by our actions or words.

The Second Reading by St. James is another reminder that one of the greatest blocks to entering the kingdom is riches. This is such a constant theme in the New Testament that it amazes me that so many Christians can just ignore it. The Bible is not saying it is bad to be rich or to have nice things – it is saying that if you are well off, you need to help those who are not well off. Riches are not an end. If they become one, as James, says, you better enjoy your riches and happiness here, because it won’t be waiting for you later. This is a constant theme of Jesus through out the Gospels. I read an article on the debate over health care in this country the other day that impressed me because it used the Christian context. It saw health care as an obligation – it was simply the sharing of those who have with those who have not. Seen in that context, it is a wonder that any Christian could be against it unless they are just selfish. It was a controversial article but made its point very well.

So today’s readings have many themes and much for us to think about. How can we have a healthy attitude toward sin, begin to look at those things in us which are unhealthy and cause us the most problems. We are all inclined to one sin or another. We don’t have to cut off an eye or arm or leg, but we do have to cut off or at least try to curb those things which lead us to sin, whether it be alcohol, internet porn, too much ambition, too great a love for money. None of these things will help us get into God’s kingdom, so we must work on it in a healthy, positive way. Jesus has sent the spirit to us all. We can get help. We are loved.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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