Nm 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The man approached the very beautiful woman in the large supermarket and asked, ”You know, I’ve lost my wife here in the supermarket. Can you talk to me for a couple of minutes?” “Why?” “Because every time I talk to a beautiful woman my wife appears out of nowhere.”
In the first reading Joshua resents the fact that the gift of prophecy is now given to many others besides Moses, but Moses himself welcomes it. John makes the same mistake in today’s Gospel. John complains because someone who does not belong to Jesus’ company was nevertheless driving out demons in Jesus’ name.
Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him’. The fact that he was acting in his name meant that he was not against them. Thus Jesus gave the disciples a lesson in openness and tolerance. Some people are threatened by the gifts or achievements of others. If only they had a more open attitude they would find themselves enriched rather than diminished by those gifts. The person who is different from me does not diminish me but enriches me. God bestows his gifts freely. Our responsibility is to welcome those gifts wherever they appear.
Jesus also talks about the sin of scandal in today’s gospel – causing others to sin and cause of sin in ourselves.
Parts of our bodies are parts of ourselves. That is what makes Jesus’ words so challenging in today’s gospel. Jesus says that there can be an advantage in plucking out our eye or cutting off a hand or a foot. Now of course, Jesus is not speaking literally. He is not asking us to maim our bodies. He is saying that there can be certain things which we need to remove from our lives. And the things which need to be removed can be very close to us, almost a part of us. Therefore removing them can be difficult, perhaps as difficult as cutting off a hand or a foot.
What are these things that we should remove from our lives? There can be a long list: a habit of sin, a destructive entrenched attitude, a desire for revenge, or a false and unhealthy pride. We could go on and on. But today’s readings emphasize one particular thing to be removed: an attitude of intolerance. Intolerance is an attitude that sees no value in the action or the ideas of another person. In the first reading, Joshua complains to Moses because some people who were not under Moses’ authority were nevertheless prophesying. Moses rejects Joshua’s intolerance and says that God is free to grant God’s spirit, even if it does not come through Moses. In today’s gospel, John complains to Jesus because there were some people who were using Jesus’ name to cast out demons and they were not Jesus’ disciples. Jesus rejects John’s intolerance and tells him, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
The attitude of intolerance flourishes whenever people adopt an “Us vs. Them” mentality. There are sure signs that this kind of thinking is growing among us. Internationally we see more and more examples of one country vilifying another. In our country politicians who disagree with one another are more frequently turning to personal attacks. In our own family and relationship this attitude of “Us vs. Them” can also take a foothold and hurt us.
How can we overcome this type of attitude? It is only by cultivating a ‘culture of care’ as Pope Francis said in his address to the Congress asking us to follow the golden rule this week: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you”. 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 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.
Deeds don’t have to be big in order to be of help and comfort to the person for whom they are done. They just have to have certain quality. That quality is warmth. All deeds which come from the heart have this warmth.