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September 30th 2018. Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 30th 2018. Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading . . .
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GOSPEL Mark 9:38-43, 47-48
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . The disciples are upset because someone is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. But they ignore the fact that this person is doing good and instead object to the fact that he does not belong to their special “club”. Exclusivity is a common problem in religious circles. We insist that people conform to certain conditions before they can belong to our elite group. People get a sense of belonging and a sense of identity by membership in groups that exclude others. Adolescents sometimes do terrible things in order to belong to a certain group or to show public conformity to a certain ethos. Jesus condemns this behaviour in very strong terms. The language he uses is paradoxical because that is how the Semites communicate things. The Bible is a complex work that requires a refined level of interpretation. It is not to be read in simplistic, superficial or fundamentalist terms. Jesus does not want us to pluck out our eyes, cut off our hands or chop off our feet. But he wants to tell us that it would be preferable to lose a limb or an eye rather than lose one of our brothers or sisters. The Holy Spirit leads to communion, not to exclusion. In fact, Jesus not only lost a hand, foot or eye but had his whole body nailed to the cross in order to bring all people into loving communion with his heavenly Father.
In the first reading Joshua does not want people prophesying unless they belong to the right “club”
In the first reading for Sunday, Moses is instructing the seventy elders, imparting his wisdom to them because he has arrived at the point where he can no longer govern. Two of the elders are absent. In fact, they are in the camp prophesying to the people. Joshua, who will one day become a great leader, is still immature and is jealous of the fact that these men are prophesying without proper authorisation. He asks Moses that they not be allowed to continue prophesying in this irregular fashion. But Moses replies that he wishes that everyone could be prophets, that everyone could be possessed by the Spirit of God! This reading evokes the theme of exclusion, the theme of the closed clique or elite inside circle, a phenomenon that often finds a home in religion. The sense of “them” and “us” can be very strong in religious circles.
Jesus uses harsh language that refers to cutting off one’s limbs. Of course, this is not to be taken literally, but it is a powerful way of delivering a clear message
How does Jesus face this issue of exclusion? He uses paradoxical language: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off, for it is better to enter into life with one hand only than not to enter at all. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off, etc.”. Evidently we are not to take these sayings literally. The Semites use paradoxical language to communicate, and if we are not able to interpret this type of language properly, then it would be better that we not open the Bible at all. The Bible is a refined piece of writing and it cannot be understood in a superficial or fundamentalist manner. Why then does Jesus say that we are to cut off our limbs or pluck out our eyes? The disciples have found someone who casts out demons in the name of Jesus, and they want to stop him because he is an outsider who does not respect “copyright”. The problem is not that he is casting out demons but rather that he is not part of their “club”. But this man is casting out the devil and defeating evil! He is doing genuine good! When we allow form to be more important than substance, as the disciples are doing in this instance, then we get ourselves into difficulty. The disciples wish to impede this man’s behaviour until it conforms with the rules. And it is this that prompts Jesus to begin his very severe discourse.
The Holy Spirit is always directed towards communion
Christianity can sometimes become something which is divided up along bureaucratic lines. If the apostles already had this difficulty back then, just think what we have to deal with in our time! It often happens that we fail to see the beautiful things that are happening because we are so fixated with the rules of belonging to the club. We are fascinated by membership in something that is exclusive. It can give a feeling of belonging to isolated individuals. Also, it gives a sense of identity that distinguishes me from others. Adolescents can do terrible things in order to belong to a certain group, in order to be recognized by the group. Jesus has no soft words for this kind of behaviour. The Holy Spirit is love and is always directed towards communion, the diametric opposite of exclusion. The Holy Spirit is the essential element in our interior lives and in the life of the ecclesial community. The logic of the Holy Spirit, which is love and salvation, works always towards inclusion. Remember the attitude of Jesus in going to search out the lost sheep and bring it back to the Father?
Everyone is so precious to Jesus that he would cut off hands feet and eyes in order to save them. In fact his entire body was nailed to the cross so that everyone might be brought into communion with his heavenly Father
In this passage that we read from the Gospel, the word “scandal” appears many times in the original version. This word does not refer to some sort of news that cause gossip in society but rather refers to that which causes opposition. A scandal is that which creates division and opposition. That which tends to cause inclusion is often inspired, but that which excludes is generally suspect in nature. Rather than exclude someone, we should be ready to pluck out our eyes. Rather than pushing someone away and saying, “You are not one of us!” it would be better to cut off our hands. Before taking the pathway that would lead someone to think that they are not worthy of salvation, we should be ready to cut off our foot. It would be better to tie a millstone around our necks and throw ourselves in the sea. This is paradoxical language because it is the Gospel. Every brother and sister is so precious to Jesus that he not only cut off a hand or a foot, but gave his entire body on the cross to save that brother or sister. We must never encourage attitudes that lead to factions or exclusion. Rather, we must allow ourselves be led to ever greater communion by the Holy Spirit.