Homily: Touched By Sin – Or Grace
Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
In our First Reading today, we read about God’s sharing the very Spirit of God with a group of elders who had made the ‘list’ and who immediately begin prophesying in the camp.
Joshua complained to Moses about two others who also prophesied, but were not among those so selected. Moses responds with the all-inclusive wish: would that God’s Spirit would embrace all in God’s camp.
The Gospel has two sections. The first has to do with the same question as above. Who can do the works of grace in the name of Jesus? Who belongs and who does not? The second section deals with living out what it means to be included.
John notifies Jesus that someone, not of their starting team, was driving out demons in His Name. Jesus speaks directly to the question: all truly good works come from and lead back to God. Jesus is revealing that one doing a good and mighty deed, need not have official credentials. The true credential for doing good is our being human and being God’s creatures.
Mark’s gospel is noted for its use of plain and blunt language and today’s gospel passage is a good example of that. When John wishes to stop those outsiders who are using Jesus’ name in their exorcisms, Jesus rebukes John with the reminder that he is here to love and to heal; he is not interested in copyrights or credits.
Jesus then speaks forcefully about what sin really is, and what kind of things should really provoke our anger. It is taking advantage of vulnerable people who can so easily be exploited when they should be protected and assisted. Children obviously come to mind. But all vulnerable persons of whatever age are included. This is where real sinfulness lies and the punishment is swift and severe: to be thrown into the fires of Gehenna. Gehenna was the place where Jerusalem’s trash was dumped. It was usually smoldering and was infested by all sorts of vermin. It was certainly not where one would want personally to end up.
The failure to distinguish between major sinfulness and minor issues is a sign that we really have our life’s priorities seriously out of order. It’s all too easy to be more concerned about appearances and reputation than about the far greater sinfulness of racism or sexism, for example, or other kinds of deep-seated prejudice.
All religions have a tendency to claim exclusive control of the avenues of salvation. But God is surely free to work outside of our familiar religious structures also. This doesn’t mean that one can get along spiritually without any such structures or that such structures are unnecessary or unimportant. But it does mean that we should work genuinely to make sure our own religious structures, whatever they may be, are as open as possible to the saving power of God.
Parents worry about their children meeting other children who might corrupt their offspring to take on wanton or offensive habits that might ruin their lives. Change, of course, is often not always for the better. Larry Gillick, S.J.
Some close friends of mine in my first parish came to discover that a young man recently living for a time with some family friends and who had gotten close to their family, especially to their young daughter, was actually there because his family had sent him there to get him away from a life that had been careening out of control with speed and other drugs.
They shared this information with me; and I suggested they break off contact with the young man before their daughter got too involved emotionally with him. They told me that the two of them had talked it over, and they had decided that their family had been becoming such a good influence on him that they wouldn’t want to deprive him of the influence and example, especially from their daughter, that might be able to save him from a wasted and dissolute life. How many of us would be willing to take such a chance? I know at the time I felt I could not have done so if it had been my daughter.
Encountering Jesus had been just such a life-changing experience for some such as Peter, Paul, Thomas and the Woman at the Well. Jesus met some others who dug in even deeper into their resistance and rigidity.
We are who we are, to a large extent, a result of those people who met us on the deepest levels. We too, without knowing it, often are involved in the conversion of others by being who we are and living our truths.
In a certain sense, our greatest personal failure may be pursuing too limited of goals for ourself. That can really endanger seriously fulfilling the ultimate purpose of our life. Jesus is not saying that it is wrong to seek wealth or power or knowledge. But all these goals have to be made subordinate to the goal of living a selfless, serious life of service and loving generosity. In other words, any personal material goals have to be made subservient to a lifestyle of unselfish love. Otherwise, the “eye” or the “hand” can become more important than life itself, with disastrous consequences. The language here seems harsh because so much is at stake. Actually, it means exactly what is intended by the frequent gospel references to gaining one’s life in this world and yet losing it forever. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.