Sunday, September 27, 2015

Homily for 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Sept. 27, 2015

Mark 9: 38-48

Num 11: 25-29

St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“We tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mark 9: 38).

In the gospel story and the story from the book of Numbers, a young disciple gets upset because the Spirit of the Lord is working outside the approved or official circle of followers.
Actually, in Numbers the 2 men whose prophesying upset Joshua were approved, but for some reason we’re not told missed their appointment with Moses.  But the Holy Spirit didn’t lose track of them and dis-appoint them!

In the gospel episode, we have no idea who this person is who’s driving out demons in Jesus’ name.  Evidently he knows Jesus to some extent, but he’s not one of the 12; it seems that he must not have been even one of the larger group of disciples who spent a lot of time with Jesus.  This passage comes immediately after the one we heard last week about the disciples’ “discussing among themselves who was the greatest” (9:34); John still hasn’t gotten the message about what it means to be first in the kingdom of God (cf. 9:35).  Do you remember that?

Moses rebukes his upset disciple Joshua; Jesus rebukes John.  Both Moses and Jesus are pleased that good’s being done, that’s God’s work is being done.  Pres. Harry Truman is quoted as saying, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”  Neither Moses nor Jesus is jealous for the credit line; only God matters.

With Joshua and John, credit is important.  They’re worried about their own prestige, about their influence with their master.  So Moses and Jesus have to remind their disciples about what’s really important:  doing good, being of service to other people, letting the Spirit of God work in your life—and in others’ lives; and not jealousy over one’s power, prestige, or influence.

God gives everyone gifts to use for the benefit of others—the benefit of family, parish, community, nation.  If we’re working with God, we want to see those gifts used well, whoever’s using them, whoever gets the credit, regardless of group or social class or ethnicity or religious faith or any such thing.  Always:  to God be the glory!

In the 2d part of the gospel, Jesus warns against scandal, i.e., against leading other people into wrongdoing (9:42).  It’s one of Jesus’ harshest sayings:  better you should be drowned in the ocean than lead one of his disciples into sin!

Then Jesus shifts directly to us and what might lead us to sin.  He speaks of cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes if these “cause you to sin” (9:43-46).

In one sense Jesus is speaking with exaggeration—a common practice in the rhetoric of his people; we’re not to take him literally.  We do that sometimes too:  “I’ve told you a million times….”  Jesus means that we mustn’t let anything come between us and God, mustn’t let anything lead us astray.

Another way of considering his words is related to traditional Catholic morality.  There, as well as in a form of the Act of Contrition that people my age were taught, we speak of “the near occasions of sin,” which we should avoid.  A “near occasion of sin” is a person, place, or activity that is likely to cause us to make a sinful decision, commit a sinful act.  For example, alcoholics should stay out of bars.

“If your eye causes you to sin….”  One of the biggest businesses in the U.S. today is pornography.  It appeals to our eyes (and sometimes our ears) and induces us to abuse our sexuality—by turning women (usually) into objects, to depersonalize them.  Women are liable to a different form of porn—soap operas and romance novels (so-called “bodice rippers”); men aren’t the ones reading those, and it wasn’t men who made Fifty Shades of Grey a best-seller.  Porn feeds our selfishness in the form of lust; you know that Jesus speaks of the possibility of committing adultery in our hearts by lusting for a woman—Matt 5:28, part of the Sermon on the Mount; and that teaching applies in reverse, as well.  Porn may lead to actions as well as desires:  to masturbation, to sexual activity outside marriage, to abusive behavior toward one’s partner.

Or our eyes might foster greed and envy.  We see someone’s success and get jealous and start to gossip about and slander that person.  (The Holy Father has spoken often about what a grave sin gossip is.)  We see something we’d like to possess—like Gollum and the ring (have you seen or read Lord of the Rings?)—and we’ll steal or lie or even kill to get it.

So Jesus is telling us to control our eyes, to be careful what we look at, what we focus on.  Likewise with how we use our hands and where we let our feet take us.  In the end, his teaching comes down to choosing the kingdom of God wholeheartedly, singlemindedly, always.

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