Scripture Readings: Book of Numbers 11:25-29; Letter of James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus advocates a spirit of humility and gentleness in a concrete case of someone expelling demons in Jesus’ name. Though not an identifiable follower of Jesus, the Lord recommends tolerance on practical grounds.
Put another way, Jesus says the unnamed exorcist is “for us” in some sense, since he is not doing harm, and in fact doing good. Though perhaps not formally counted among the “followers of Jesus,” the one casting out demons is not in opposition to what Jesus is teaching, doing and standing for.
How easy to think of examples of this in our own time and culture. People who do good, by promoting life and the well-being of others, may in fact be far from we might consider a believer in God or a practitioner of the Gospel, but at the same time, not acting contrary in any way to Gospel values. Such ones are to be respected and encouraged, and one never knows if in fact they eventually become followers of Jesus, through the good example and kindness of Christians.
In another place in the Gospels, in Luke chapter 9, verse 55, Jesus rebukes the apostles James and John, very close followers of Jesus, for their harshness toward a village of Samaritans who would not receive Jesus. Put in more concise language, Jesus says, “Anyone who is not against us is with us.”
The Gospel passage for this Sunday goes on with words of Jesus sternly warning against leading astray or scandalizing anyone. This means never doing harm to the faith of any believers, which could draw them away from following the Master.
The disciples of Jesus are admonished to make sure they do not stumble or cause others to stumble. In fact, they must renounce (cut off!) everything, however dear or precious, which might lead them to unfaithfulness in their vocation as disciples. Compromising one’s discipleship places a person in the grave danger of losing a share in salvation and union with God. Because we possess free will, losing life in Christ is possible, but only by our own choices. God cannot force us to share in divine life.
The words of the Gospel today may sound frightening or a “down message,” but the point is highly positive; that is, extreme measures must be taken by those who follow Christ and no sacrifice spared in order to avoid becoming a false disciple or a traitor, since our salvation, eternal happiness, is at stake.
Scripture, God’s Word to us, repeatedly insists on human responsibility and the danger to which one is exposed, but at the same time, such possible danger is to be resisted and fought against in life’s journey to God.
The late Father Carroll Stuhlmueller, of the Congregation of the Passion, in a reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel passage, says:
“Jesus utters stern, really harsh words against misusing leadership (or discipleship). Even though Jesus is speaking metaphorically about cutting off hands or feet, even gauging out one’s eyes, nonetheless, the metaphor stands for something that is absolute and essential, never to be compromised” (from Biblical Meditation for Ordinary Time, Weeks 24-34,” Paulist Press, page 307).
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB