Num 11: 25 – 29, Ps 19: 8, 10, 12-14, Jas 5: 1 – 6, Mk 9: 38 – 43, 45, 47 – 48
I found this version of an old joke that you’ve probably heard before: A man arrives at the gates of heaven. St. Peter asks, “Religion?” The man says, “Methodist.” St. Peter looks down his list and says, “Go to Room 24, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” Another man arrives at the gates of heaven. “Religion?” “Lutheran.” “Go to Room 18, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” A third man arrives at the gates. “Religion?” “Presbyterian.” “Go to Room 11, but be very quiet as you pass Room 8.” The man says, “I can understand there being different rooms for different denominations, but why must I be quiet when I pass Room 8?” St. Peter tells him, “Well, the Baptists are in room 8, and they think they’re the only ones here.”
The first lesson we learn from today’s gospel is Christian tolerance. The apostles came upon a man, not of their company, who was healing people in the name of Jesus. They tried to stop him. Why? Because they were jealous of their special relationship with Jesus. We find a similar example in the First reading as well.
Jesus gave the disciples a lesson in openness and tolerance. We remember the narrow attitudes we had towards Christians of other denominations prior to Vatican II. In the Vatican II document, The Church in the Modern World, the Catholic Church declared that all who are open to God, who are following their consciences are themselves, in fact, members of the Church, saved by Jesus Christ.
We all need to realize dear friends, that God can and does use anyone to do His work. The Church has no monopoly on God’s work, truth, love or power to heal and reconcile. The work of the Kingdom is not confined to the baptized, although it is certainly our special work. The road to the brotherly love Jesus commands must begin with each of us. Wherever we see God’s work being done we should give it our support and be ready to work together with those doing the work, whether they are Christians or not, believers or not.
The second lesson we learn from the Gospel is that even a simple and small acts of kindness will be rewarded. Jesus said that anyone who gave the little ones even a cup of cold water would be rewarded. The ‘cup of cold water’ is a symbol of the small kind of deed. Few of us are given the chance to perform great deeds. But the chance to give a cup of water can come our way several times in the course of a day. A small act of kindness can turn winter into summer at least briefly for another person.
The third lesson we learn today deals with the sin of scandal – causing others to sin. He issues a grim warning against those who would lead astray any of the little ones who believe in him. When we think of the crimes committed against children today, whether through neglect or abuse, the words of Jesus are a warning that we should take very seriously.
Jesus goes on to talk about the causes of sin in ourselves. This is the fourth lesson from the gospel today. A person’s enemy may be within himself/herself. Occasions of sin are to be ruthlessly cut off. Jesus urges people to make the costliest sacrifices in order to avoid sin, even to the extent of cutting off a hand or foot, or plucking out an eye. The words must not be taken with a crude literalism. The point Jesus is making is that serious sin is to be avoided at any cost. We ought to be prepared to go any lengths in order to eliminate evil from our lives. His aim was to impress indelibly on us that the kingdom of God is worth any sacrifice.
As always, the words of Jesus give us much food for thoughts. We would do well if we follow them in our daily lives.
(Little Johnny was walking down the beach when he spied a matronly woman sitting on the sand under a beach umbrella. He walked up to her and asked, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” she replied. “Do you read your Bible every day?” She nodded her head, “Yes.” “Do you pray often?” the boy asked next, and again she answered, “Yes.” With that, he asked his final question, “Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?”)