26th Sunday of Year (B)
(Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-8)
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ: in today’s Gospel reading we were offered a wonderfully comforting teaching, a sure promise, and a clear warning. Which should we look at first? As is usually the case with Jesus, let us consider the teaching first to which all else is related.
He who is not against us is for us.
In the first reading from the book of Numbers we were told a remarkable story of helpers being enrolled and endowed for Moses. What can possibly have prevented those two nominees Eldad and Medad from going with the seventy others chosen like themselves along with Moses, to meet the Lord at or in the Tent of Meeting? Despite their absence, however, because they had been enrolled with the rest, we are told that:
The Spirit rested upon them, (since) they were among those listed, (and although they) had not gone out to the tabernacle, yet they prophesied in the camp.
All those chosen to help Moses were given the Spirit, and the sign of the bestowal of that Gift was that they all prophesied, even those not present at the Tent of Meeting. However, since they were only to be helpers, not prophets like Moses:
When the Spirit rested upon them they prophesied, although they never did so again.
Perhaps those helpers of Moses were in Jesus’ mind when, in the Gospel reading, His disciple John told Him of a man performing miracles in His name:
Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.
Whereupon, Jesus answered with those memorable words we are considering:
Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in My name who can soon afterward speak ill of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.
Let us concentrate our attention on those words, whoever is not against us is for us.
Notice that this man ‘who is for us’ is still not one of those to whom Jesus relates Himself when saying ‘us’. If you remember, Jesus was walking through Galilee with His disciples and instructing them about His mission and their calling; they, this group walking together and bonding so closely together in order to face the future together, were the ‘us’ whom Jesus meant when He said:
Whoever is not against us is for us.
‘For us’, indeed, but not ‘one of us’. What a privilege it was for the Twelve, to hear Jesus speaking of Himself and of them as ‘us’!
The Spirit was given to the seventy-two to enable them to help the great prophet Moses; and therefore, as a public sign on their behalf before the people, they were allowed to prophesy; but only the once because they were only helpers of Moses, nothing more. The stranger whom John the beloved disciple had noticed performing a miracle in the name of Jesus was, likewise, only one temporarily endowed by the Father to be of help to Jesus. Although the Spirit had been given to enable him to perform a miracle in the name of Jesus, nevertheless, he was not one of the group Jesus called ‘us’, because the Spirit had not been given him in the like manner and same fullness as He was bestowed on the Twelve: making them one with, being conformed to, Jesus as members of His mystical Body and, in Him, adopted sons of God in the only-begotten Son.
So, People of God, be well aware of what and where your treasure is: the pearl of great price that you have received is the Gift of the Spirit of Jesus Who makes you into a member of the Body of Christ, in Him and with Him a child of God the Father; that is the treasure you have to protect above all, and make full use of while you can.
So great is that dignity bestowed upon all made one with and in Christ, that Jesus went on to say, as you heard:
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
That is a measure of your dignity, People of God! A dignity not given to enable you to boast before men, but one that should impel you to most humbly give thanks, constant thanks indeed, to God, whilst at the same time, moving you to wholeheartedly acknowledge before Him your unworthiness.
Such is your dignity; what then is your worth? Listen again.
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
One of these little ones who believe in Me: that is what I just mentioned when I spoke of the Gift received moving you to wholehearted awareness of your unworthiness; because, in that revelation, awareness, of personal unworthiness, believers become humble as little children before God and Jesus gives a most dire warning to any who would harm, bring down, such humble believers. That, dear People of God and true disciples of Jesus, is your worth in His eyes.
Now, however, it is time to give attention to the warning given, not only to others, but to our own selves; because, as I said, this gift of the Spirit making you a member of the group whom Jesus addresses with the word ‘us’, is not simply a pearl bestowed on you, but a treasure entrusted to you, to be guarded, protected, and used for Him Who bestowed it. Therefore, Jesus warns us, and all of His disciples, that each of us can become an obstacle to ourselves if we do not exercise proper self-discipline:
If your hand, if your foot, causes you to sin, cut it off.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
And the reason He gives for this is well known: It is better to enter into life, into the Kingdom of God, maimed or lame, than to fail to enter there; because nothing could possibly compensate for such a failure, such a loss.
Notice, however, People of God, that here, Jesus does not speak directly about the joys or the blessings of heaven, He limits Himself to warnings against possible failure to attain such fulfilment. Today, such personal warnings are frequently interpreted as degrading threats, and human pride is such that those thus afflicted are rarely willing to imagine themselves as being moved by any words other than what are admirable and capable of inspiring the highest and best of the natural endowments of those who hear them. Jesus, however, we should note, is not interested in opinions, vanities, or imaginations of men, He is entirely centred on the facts of life, and the realities, involved: the facts of life, both earthly and eternal. Therefore, He does not try to cajole with flowery words and attractive prospects; instead, Jesus speaks in the way that penetrates deepest into the psyche of all human beings, who, despite the vanity of their proclaimed aspirations, are weak, ignorant, and short-lived: He speaks of a supremely great threat to our well-being, one which cannot be ignored, hell. And He does not just leave open the possibility of that which moderns so fear to mention or think about that they can only scoff whenever it might be forced upon their attention. No, Jesus emphasises the nature of this threat -- not only once but twice -- with words that paint an indelibly powerful and fearsome image for all who consider them -- saying that it is indeed possible for us:
To go to Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire --- where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
People of God, what the prophet at the distance of hundreds of years could lovingly, beautifully, and even opulently describe as:
A feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees (Isaiah 25:6),
has been set before us in today’s Gospel and it reads like an eve-of-battle dispatch from the front line. Perhaps the consoling message of your dignity, of the treasure that has been given you whereby you are one with Christ, provokes heartfelt gratitude in you; or it might be the awesome message of the worth of all who are children of God that inspires you with a confidence and trust not naturally part of your human make-up. However, when battle starts and you find yourself undergoing trials and temptations of whatever sort, let the warning of Jesus rise uppermost in your mind and sink deepest into your heart; for though proud people of this world hate/fear such warnings and pretend to despise them, nevertheless, for a sincere Christian they can be a vital source of clear understanding and insurmountable strength, enabling us to walk securely and steadfastly along the ways of Jesus with calm trust and self- abandonment despite the threats of any powers of evil arrayed against us.
How blessed is the man who fears to do wrong! But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. (Proverbs 28:14)