26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, B DO NOT STOP THEM: A Call to Pastoral Collaboration

“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” (Mark 9: 39-40)

We continue to journey with Jesus and His disciples on His way to Jerusalem for His Passion and Death and Resurrection. This is a journey of inner learning for His disciples, who need to understand Jesus’ mission in order to be able to live out their distinctive and demanding commission of going out to the whole world, making disciples, baptising them and teaching them to obey everything they have been taught (Matthew 28: 19-20). But it would seem the disciples are slow learners, or perhaps their preconceived notions of the Messiah are stumbling blocks to their opening up to this new concept of Messianic identity. Twice already we have encountered their lack of understanding of Jesus’ prediction of His Passion, Death and rising on the third day (Mark 8: 31-33; 9: 31-32).

In the Gospel of today (Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48), it still would seem the disciples have not yet learnt the lesson of discipleship that Jesus taught with the image of the “little child” in the Gospel of last Sunday. They still think in terms of power, authority, exclusiveness and privilege. They are more concerned about an outsider who seemingly usurped their prerogative than seeing the goodness done in the name of Jesus. John complained to the Master that they saw a man casting out devils in His Name and they tried to stop him. But Jesus gave a rather very mild rebuke to this: “Do 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” (Mark 9: 39-40).

This response of Jesus complements the action of Moses in the First Reading (Numbers 11: 25-29), where Eldad and Medad, who were among the seventy elders chosen by Moses to assist him in bearing the burden of the people of Israel but were not with them at the Tent, were prophesying in the camp and Joshua complained: “My Lord, Moses, stop them” (Numbers 11: 28). Moses responded in a way that must have shocked Joshua and elders: “Are you jealous on my account? If only that the whole people of God were prophets, and the Lord gave His power to them all” (Numbers 11: 29). Here Moses’ reply is tied to that of Jesus in one simple message, get rid of your self-distinctiveness and open your heart, mind and eyes to rejoice in goodness wherever it is found. No one person or group has the monopoly of God’s power.

Moses and Jesus are here focused on all-embracing involvement of all believers. They are correcting the idea of wrongly thinking that anyone (disciples and the elders) have the exclusive preserve of the use of the Name of Jesus to perform miracles or the Spirit of God to prophesy. The Name of Jesus is the name given to all men, who believe in Him, byis NaNameNN which man will be saved (Acts 4: 12). The Spirit of God blows where it wills and it is no one’s duty to stop or control where the Spirit chooses to go or who He wants to use. St. Paul corroborates the response of Jesus when he writes: “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12: 3). The fact that one is outside the communion does not mean that the Spirit of God cannot manifest in Him to perform certain actions.

There is something worth considering here: the priests, like the elders and the apostles, do not have any exclusive reserve of the power of the Holy Spirit. While it is a fact that by the virtue of the sacrament of ordination, they have easier access to the Holy Spirit, having been spiritually imprinted with the mark of the Holy Spirit, they cannot claim to have distinctive rights to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in works and power. This calls for pastoral re-understanding, inclusiveness and collaboration, whereby there a recognition, acceptance and employment of the charisms of the other members of the people of God. The Church should be an inclusive community with mutual respect and love; and not otherwise. Jesus is again saying to the Church: “Do not stop them.”

But experiences today have another side to this teaching – the side of abuses, exploitation of the poor, the ignorant, the weak in faith and the desperate. Today, many have been abused and misled by those who make various claims to the power of God. Unfortunately, Churches have become instruments of intimidation, abuses, exploitation and commercialisation for personal aggrandisement by modern “Man of God.” Religion has generally become a sword that divides and destroys and kills, instead of a force of peace, love and unity.

Notice that if God generously rewards little acts of kindness to one of His own, He also severely punishes evil acts, especially when they lead “any of these little ones” astray. “Little ones” here refers to children in their innocence, the weak, the ignorant and the vulnerable. Scandals could be very easy to commit because sometimes it is not intended; they could also result from negligence and of course, deliberate actions. Sometimes, one may not even be aware of the impacts of his actions or inactions. It becomes a grave offence if it leads another into grave sin (CCC. 2284-2285). St. Paul’s cautions to the early Christians in Rome and Corinth are quite relevant for us today (Romans 14: 1-15: 6; 1 Corinthians 8: 1-13). Let us be careful what we do and not do; what we say and not say, where, when and to whom.   

Immediately linked to that is the teaching on the value of salvation in our lives. It is a known fact that the way we live here and now determines what happens to us in the here-after. So Jesus teaches: “And if your hand … foot … eye should cause you to sin, cut it off, for it better for you to enter into life crippled … lame … blind than to have your two hands … two legs … and two eyes and be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die nor their fire go out” (Mark 9: 43-49). Certainly Jesus is not asking any of us to carry out this teaching literally but He is using these images to emphasise the seriousness of the premium we should place on the salvation of our souls. Eternal life is so supremely important that we should be prepared to act very vigorously against anything that seems to or actually stands in our way. The challenge here is a call to personal self-assessment: What do I need to cut off? Who do I need to dissociate from? What relationships are not helpful? Who or what must I let go? May God guide us on our way to salvation.