Sep. 29, 2018

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2018

“WE TRIED TO PREVENT HIM BECAUSE HE DOES NOT FOLLOW US” (Mk. 9: 38): The negative effects of privileges.

Readings: 1st- Num. 11: 25-29; 2nd- Jas. 5: 1-6; Gospel- Mk. 9: 38-43; 45, 47-48

How many times do we exhibit this attitude from Joshua and John in today’s readings, the attitude of “he/she does not belong to us, and we tried to stop him/her.” 

Let’s place the first reading and the gospel side by side. The image of Moses in the Old Testament is depicted in Jesus in the New Testament. The background of the first reading is that Moses got frustrated and overwhelmed with the people because they complained so much. At that time, Moses cried out to God saying, “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress” (Num. 11:14-15). It was at this point that the Lord promised Moses some help. God promised to take some of the spirit in Moses and give to some of the elders so that the burden of leading the people would not be on Moses alone.

The reading from Numbers today is the fulfillment of that promise. The elders receive the spirit of prophecy from God. Two men by name, Eldad and Medad, also receive the same gift of prophecy. As the prophesy, Joshua is uncomfortable. He requests that they be stopped. Joshua was aide to Moses. He didn’t want these men to receive the spirit as Moses, so he said, “My Lord, stop them.” Moses’ response to Joshua showed greater maturity and appreciation of God’s generosity, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Similar incident takes place in the gospel where John and the disciples see someone driving out demon in the name of Jesus. They become uncomfortable and John reports 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’ response is like that of Moses, “Do not prevent him…. For whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus goes on to commend those who show generosity to his disciples by offering them just a cup of water to drink. He promises such people great reward from God. Individuals who show generosity simply mirror God and help to spread the grace of the gospel.

Joshua and John represent the spirit of discrimination and segregation seen among many Christians. They exhibit selfishness. Joshua wants Moses to stop the elders from prophesying. John wants to stop someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Each of these disciples wants to privatize God’s gift. They want to stifle the talents which God has given others to promote the course of the good news and the welfare of the people. In John’s case, we notice later in the gospels that he displays such attitude with his brother James among the other apostles. Scripture records, “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. The two brothers approached Jesus with the request, “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mk. 10:36-37). So, when John says today, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him”, it is not surprising that he tries to monopolize the power from Jesus.

Sometimes, we exhibit traits that show possessiveness about what we cherish. I remember someone telling me recently that she met another friend of hers from Nigeria. She started telling this friend about our church and what we do here. She said that her new friend got interested and requested that she introduced her to me. She called me and was asking for permission to let her friend talk to me. I told her it was fine. Then, in a funny way, she said to me, “Fr., I already told her that not when I introduce Fr. Vin to you now, you take him away from me.” When she said that, we both laughed. Then I said to her, “It’s not possible because Fr. Vin does not belong to one person, and no priest does”. We laughed hard about that. This comes to me as a slight example of what we notice in today’s readings, “We saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him.” It’s like John telling Jesus, “We don’t want the man to take you away from us.” Jesus does not belong to anyone alone. He came that all may have life in full.

From another perspective, Joshua and John represent a position of comfort and privilege. They are gaining from the closeness to the master and wouldn’t want anyone to obstruct their privilege. They represent the various privileges we share in life. Once in such positions, we become selfish and possessive, become blind about what “outsiders” feel. It could be privilege we enjoy as Christians and could be societal privilege that generate categorization of status and stereotypes. For instance, as Catholics, we might think that what other Christians do is invalid. So, let’s stop them. They’re not worth the name and perhaps preach an inferior gospel. There might be a major difference between us and them but that shouldn’t make us exclude them from the salvation of Christ. 

In the second reading, James approaches it from the point of view of unfair distribution of goods and services in the society. He condemns the harsh treatment given to the poor. He warns the rich who store up treasures and withhold the wages of workers against impending doom. Such luxury is condemnable and leads only to the destruction of such riches. If riches become oppressive instrument in the society, it becomes a means to damnation for the wealthy. 

And Christ says to us, “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 hell.” Isn’t it possible that material wealth could be the reason for someone to miss heaven? That’s the “hand, eye, leg”, that causes you to sin. Someone in a state of privilege could become discriminatory and selfish to the point of missing opportunities to do good. Privileges could lead to exclusion. Privileges could lead to disregard of the value of others. Christ says, “Cut it off and throw it into hell”. Whatever that pulls you away from recognizing the value of others has become that hand that causes you to sin. Whatever that makes you to feel comfortable to the point of neglecting to do good should be cut off. You don’t need that. That’s John’s mentality that says, “Master, we tried to stop someone because he does not belong to us.” Do you see those from another tribe or race as not being one of you? Do you treat any human being as less human and worthless? Christ says, “cut it off”, cut off that attitude. You have treat everyone well and be their strength rather than casting them away. 

Let us shun selfishness and discrimination in our lives and let everyone enjoy God’s generosity. Christ reminds us, “He (God) makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust” (Matt. 6:45).