26th Sunday, O T Year B – 2015

26th Sunday O T Year B – 2015

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

In Belfast, Ireland, a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi were engaged in a heated theological discussion. Suddenly an angel appeared in their midst and said to them, “God sends you His blessings. Make one wish for peace and your wish will be fulfilled by the Almighty.”

The Protestant minister said, “Let every Catholic disappear from our lovely island. Then peace will reign supreme.” The priest said, “Let there not be a single Protestant left on our sacred Irish soil. That will bring peace to this island.”

“And what about you, Rabbi?” said the angel. “Do you have no wish of your own?” “No,” said the rabbi. “Just attend to the wishes of these two gentlemen and I shall be well pleased.”

A young man approaches a good looking girl in a Mall and asked, “You know, I have lost my girlfriend here in the Mall. Can you talk to me for a couple of minutes?” “Why?” she asks. “Because, every time I talk to a beautiful girl, my girlfriend appears out of nowhere.”

Today’s readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal. Some of history’s sins can be attributed to jealousy. The first murder was committed because of jealousy. Cain was jealous that Abel’s offering was accepted by God and his was not. Jesus was crucified because of the jealousy of the religious leaders.

The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia persecuted Paul and Barnabas because of jealousy. In today’s first reading Joshua is jealous of Eldad and Medad prophesying. The Israelites were jealous of Moses’ leadership. Joshua could not tolerate these absent men prophesying in the camp without receiving God’s Spirit in the Tent of Meeting. Moses had to instruct Joshua to be tolerant.

In the gospel today the disciples were jealous of a stranger expelling demons. Remember at one point the disciples were jealous of John and James trying to get a spiritual promotion. So today’s Gospel gives us lessons in Christian tolerance and exemplary Christian living.

The apostles wanted to reserve God’s love and healing power to themselves as the “sole owners” and “authorized distributors”! We hear John complaining to Jesus that a stranger was driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, though he was not of their company.

They wanted Jesus to condemn the man. They may have been jealous of this stranger. Jesus, however, reprimanded his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion and invited them to broaden their vision and to recognize God’s power wherever it was found.

Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus challenged a rigid understanding of ministerial legitimacy.  He wanted the apostles to rejoice in the good that others did, for God was the Doer of all good. Jesus enunciates a principle for his disciples: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”  God can and does use anyone to do His work.

Jesus’ second warning is against scandal-givers: those who cause the “little ones” to sin. The Greek word for “little ones” is micron, meaning the smallest or the least. It can mean children, those who are new to the Faith, or those who are weak in Faith.

Jesus is pointing out that the scandalous behavior of older believers can be an obstacle to those whose Faith is just beginning to develop. We hear the theme on scandal in the Second Reading too, we heard of James condemning the rich because of their unjust treatment to laborers while indulging in their riches.

It is a scandal that continues actually this day. In the Gospel, the scandal takes a new form. Jesus warns the older people about their scandalous behavior for this definitely affect the faith of the “weak” or the “little ones”. Parents’ infidelity can be a scandal to their children.

How many children now who no longer believe in the sacrament of marriage because of their parents’ neglect and inability to find solution to family and marital problems? Teachers can be a scandal to students when teachers demonstrate inappropriate behaviors, or when they teach things that are not proper to them.

Also, priests can be scandal to the faithful if they teach things which are contrary to the teachings of the Church. Thus, the readings today teach us that we have differences, in behavior, attitudes, values, and in faith, and that we must learn to respect our differences.

Perhaps we can take the lesson that we should never be jealous of, and, in fact, should team up with, people who have the same talents and gifts as we have, not see them as threats. The rest of the Gospel today is filled with exaggerations which we call hyperboles.

Hyperboles exist to make a strong point about something. For example, I tell people I got thousands of tomatoes out my garden this year. Well, I didn’t really, but I got a huge amount of tomatoes – and people understand that exaggeration. Or we say of a restless night – I didn’t sleep all night! – When we probably did fade off a little bit at least – but we get the point!

So, when Jesus says that if you do anything to threaten the faith of a child, it would be better if a great millstone were hung about your neck and be thrown into the sea – he is exaggerating – but we get the point. It would be a really, really bad thing!

Similarly, if you steal things with your hands, cut off your hand! Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand, but he wants you to treat the inclination to steal very seriously! In the same way, if you have trouble with liquor but find yourself constantly walking into bars, just cut your feet off so you can’t. I mean, Jesus can’t be serious. He is using hyperbole.

This, of course, is one of the reasons we can’t take everything we read in the Bible literally. There has to be some common sense interpretation. If we followed Jesus’ instruction here we would all be limbless, and blind. It simply means that we must take these matters seriously – probably where the Catholic Church got the concept of “mortal sin”.

The last line of the Gospel today may be difficult to understand: “…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” Jesus is not necessarily saying that hell is a place with fire but is actually using a metaphor here.

Hell would be better translated as Gehenna, which was the local garbage pit of Jerusalem. Maggots would be there all the time because of the food scraps, and the fire would always be burning because there was always more trash.

So hell is like the maggot-ridden, perpetually smoking garbage dump – a slightly different metaphor of hell than most of us grew up with. This brings me then to the middle reading today from James once again about how hard it will be for rich people to get to heaven.

So there is a lot packed into the readings today, but what can we take home with us? Take sin seriously and do your best to avoid it. At some point, you will be called to justify your lifestyle. Billy Graham has a fantastic way of summing up this Gospel message by concluding his Crusades with a final challenge:

“Decide!  Cut away anything that prevents you from a radical decision for Jesus Christ!  Decide for Christ!”

On the other hand, let us become good role models: a) when we support and guide others in moments of doubt, weakness, and suffering, b) when we increase other people’s self-confidence by accepting them as they are and enabling them to discover their hidden talents.

We can become good role models when we help them to grow by inspiring and correcting them, d) when we forgive them and listen to them with patience, and e) when we make ourselves examples of Christian witnessing. Amen.