Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
“Our social fabric militates against relation,” wrote G.W. Morgan in Prophetic Voices. “Competitiveness pervades everything we do and is taught from the time we are small children…. Our fundamental stance is not to respond to others, but to outdo them, vie with them, beat them.”
This seems to be true of every business; and when we make a business of religion it is true in that field too. The scurrilous polemics between Christian Churches in the past seem scandalous now, but they probably seemed normal in their time.
In the first reading at today’s Mass we see how Moses regarded the ‘opposition’, and in the gospel reading we see Jesus. A young man ran to delate some unofficial prophets. “The young man ran to tell Moses: ‘Look,’ he said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.'” Moses’ response showed a wonderful generosity of spirit: “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!” The situation in the gospel reading is an exact parallel, and Jesus’ response is just like that of Moses. “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
The lesson is that the Holy Spirit is nobody’s property; it blows wherever it wills (John 3:8). The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to the Church, but the Holy Spirit is not restricted to acting in ways that we alone can recognise. No created reality can fully embody or express the freedom of God. The Church is always in danger of hardening into a sect, just as every believer is in danger of hardening into a self-righteous reactionary. But the very qualities that are considered vices in an individual can sometimes be made to appear virtues in an organisation. Today’s readings are like a road-sign that says No Entry on that road.
In the document Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council stated: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [non-Christian] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people.” This is not a sell-out, as some have claimed; it is in the spirit of Christ, who praised the “faith” even of a pagan Roman centurion (Matthew 8:10). Only a truth that is very unsure of itself feels always compelled to make an enemy of the other.
This has relevance for us at the individual level too. As Raniero Cantalamessa put it, “We are to watch with joy, not with jealousy, the many who prophesy and cast out demons, thus contributing to authentic human development.” And the great C.S. Lewis remarked that it would be very surprising if the Light of the World, Christ, were not reflected in some way in every part of the world. When we see good being done by anyone, Christian or not, we see the grace of the “cup of water” – Christ’s face, in full light or in shadow, in every good deed.