26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her pre-school children. After explaining the commandment, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, a little boy in the back of the room answered, “Yep! You shall not kill.”
Indeed, one of the ways to avoid the stumbling blocks to the living out of our Christian faith is to keep the commands of God, central to our daily consciousness and interactions with other people.
The disciples give us a prime example of that in our Gospel story. They say to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” You see, the disciples were a little jealous of the one casting out the demons. They thought that THEY were the ones who had been given that job— that THEY were the ones who had the authority to act in Jesus’ name, and THEY didn’t want to share that awesome responsibility with anyone but their inner circle. Jesus takes this opportunity, however, to remind them of their interconnectedness with all persons of faith and that God’s power can be displayed by anyone who acts in God’s name. And so, rather than being jealous of the others, the disciples should instead find cause to rejoice and to glorify his name because evil has been vanquished, sin has been defeated, God has indeed prevailed and God’s abundant mercy has been lavishly poured out!
That’s one of the reasons our church has committed itself to the work of ecumenism, which is the work of restoring the unity of the Body of Christ that has been divided through the centuries by disagreements over power structures, scripture interpretation and inspiration, and in the means given by Christ to bring a taste of salvation to all those who believe.
That’s one of the reasons too that we, as church are open to collaborating with other Christian and non-Christian denominations who strive to bring something of God’s presence into this world, so in need. There’s a secular name for this endeavor, too. It’s called networking. Businesses network all the time, in order to increase their reach and their influence and to improve the relationships that will enhance their organization. The best place for us Christians to start is by getting to know those who share the same core values as we do and to find ways to witness to those values in our world. By finding common community projects that we can all support, we begin to see one another, more and more, as brothers and sisters and, perhaps, are better able to advance the Kingdom of God together more than we would have been able to, if we tried to do it alone.
Does any of that sound familiar? Do we ever feel like we’re competing with someone else for God’s favour, or that we’re supposed to be closer to God than someone else or some other group? Do we ever get angry that someone has done a job that we could have done, or perhaps, has even done it better, than we could have done ourselves? Do we ever get jealous of someone else’ relationship with God or with someone in authority and wonder why we don’t have that same kind of closeness or favour?
Jesus says that these questions point to a stumbling block in our Christian life. He says that the stumbling block is our failure to see our interconnections with all persons of good will and that we should rejoice, rather than be envious, when God invites another person to bring God glory by his/her actions on God’s behalf.
So instead of fighting, we should seek to assist and to encourage the one whom God has chosen to continue to do even greater acts in honor of God’s glory. We need to put on the mindset that all activity that removes sin from another’s life and leads that person closer to God is a sign of God’s graced action alive and overflowing.
For when it comes right down to it, we’re all on the same team and each team member’s contributions, when done to bring another closer to God, can complement and augment our own progress toward the Kingdom of God. Jesus sums up this perspective plainly when he says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mk 9:40) Put another way, if someone or some group or institution isn’t blocking the work for the Kingdom of God that the Lord’s calling us to do, then that group or institution or person is actually assisting us in bringing the Kingdom of God closer to its full realization. And that’s Good News! And we should affirm that cooperation whenever and with whomever we see it!
We tend to be able to do this very well when other adults are involved. Sometimes, those it’s another matter when it’s with our youth. Sometimes, a stumbling block we have to overcome as a church, is our resistance, at times, to welcoming and embracing youth for what they can contribute to the building up of the body of Christ, and the tendency in some of our churches, to using sacraments as a form of discipline rather than as a means and an opportunity to pour out God’s grace and tenderness into the hearts, minds and souls of our young people. While some may have gotten used to or complacent about the greying of our church pews on Sundays, Jesus doesn’t want us to get stuck in that mindset or to simply lament the lack of youth in our churches.
Far from it! Jesus wants us to be innovative and creative in our youth ministry; he wants us to go to the youth if the youth don’t come to the church and meet them on their turf. He wants us to identify and try to understand their feelings and perspectives on church and on church teachings too. Jesus wants us to appreciate the many stresses of modern family life today, as well, and the different pressures placed on families that may not have been as prevalent when we were growing up. He wants us to be ready to welcome babies and young children to be baptized, to rejoice at the 1st reconciliations and 1st eucharists of our grade two children, to love the choice of a grade 7 or 8 child to receive the sacrament of confirmation. Jesus wants us to show our youth that they’re precious and respected unconditionally; that they’re loved and cared for and protected by the church, without exception. He doesn’t want us to create high hoops that children and their parents have to jump through, to be considered worthy of a sacrament. Jesus wants us to remove any stumbling blocks before children who desire to come to the Lord and who seek to find Jesus dwelling in their hearts
The final stumbling block to the Christian faith, which Jesus cites in the Gospel, is parts of us that resist doing what God asks. The hand, feet and eyes to which Jesus refers are symbolic representations of the inner parts of ourselves that have not yet been surrendered to the radiant light of the Gospel message. Maybe we carry bitter resentments inside our hearts that cause us to think poorly about another person. Maybe we use our mouths to speak badly about another person or gossip about their questionable behavior. Maybe we think we’re better than everyone else and use our minds to put other people down or to judge them from our self-righteous thrones.
Or perhaps the part of us that’s the biggest stumbling block is our laziness or feeling of entitlement. We perhaps are the sort of person that has a lot to complain about or to say about someone else’s deficiencies but aren’t willing to do a thing to fix a problem in our own lives or to see the good in someone else. Or perhaps we spend our time focussing on the negative without ever seeing the positive side of a given issue or particular circumstance.
In such circumstances, Jesus says, we have to be like a surgeon, and cut off those inner parts of ourselves that are impeding our progress toward the Kingdom of God and keeping us from respecting and loving the interconnectedness between ourselves, God and other people. For when all is said and done, ‘Whoever is not against us, in for us.”
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