Sunday, September 30, 2012
Welcoming the little ones and the marginalized
No one owns Jesus
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel text of the 26th Sunday of ordinary time recounts part of a long instruction that Jesus addressed to his disciples (Mc 8,22 a 10,52). (See the commentary on the Gospel of 24th Sunday). This Gospel especially sets down three conditions necessary for the conversion of someone who wishes to follow him: (i) it corrects the wrong idea of those who think they own Jesus (Mk 9:38-40); (ii) it insists on welcoming little ones (Mk 9:41-42) and (iii) it demands a radical commitment to the Gospel (Mk 9:43-48).
b) A division of the text as a help to the reading:
Mark 9:38-40: Jesus corrects the closed mentality of John the Apostle.
Mark 9:41: Anyone who offers a cup of water to one of Jesus’ disciples will be rewarded.
Mark 9:42: Avoid scandalizing little ones.
Mark 9:43-48: A radical commitment to the Gospel.
38 John said to him, 'Master, we saw someone who is not one of us driving out devils in your name, and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.' 39 But Jesus said, 'You must not stop him; no one who works a miracle in my name could soon afterwards speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.
41 'If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
42 'But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck.
43 And if your hand should be your downfall, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that never be put out. 44 45 And if your foot should be your downfall, cut it off; it is better for you enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye should be your downfall, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell 48 where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out. 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is a good thing, but if salt has become insipid, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased or struck you most in this text? Why?
b) What does Jesus’ statement mean for us today when he says: “Anyone who is not against us is for us”?
c) What does the “cup of water” mentioned by Jesus mean for us today?
d) Who were the “little ones”? What does “anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones” mean” (v. 42)?
e) “Millstone around his neck”, “Cut the hand or foot”, “Tear out the eye”: Can these statements be taken literally? What is Jesus saying through these statements?
f) In our society and community, who are the little ones and the marginalized? How do we welcome them and what is the quality of our welcome?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) Yesterdays’ and today’s context:
● As we said above, this Sunday’s Gospel presents three important requirements for the conversion of anyone who wishes to be Jesus’ disciple: (i) Not to have a closed mentality like that of John the disciple who thought he owned Jesus, but to be open and ecumenical, able to recognise good in others, even though they may belong to another religion. (ii) To overcome the mentality of those who considered themselves superior to others and who, thus, despised the little ones and the poor and drew apart from the community. According to Jesus, such a person deserves to have a millstone tied round his neck and to be thrown into the depths of the sea. (iii) Jesus asks us not to let routine enter our living out of the Gospel, but that we may be able to break the ties that prevent us from living it fully.
● These three pointers are very real for us today. Many members of the Catholic Church tend to be anti-ecumenical and have a closed mentality as if we Christians are better than others. In today’s world, dominated by a neo-liberal system, many despise the little ones and everywhere poverty, hunger, refugees and those abandoned are on the increase. We Christians are often not committed to live the Gospel. If we, millions of Christians, were to really live the Gospel, the world would be a different place.
b) A commentary on the text:
Mark 9:38-40: A closed mentality.
One who did not belong to the community, used Jesus’ name to drive out devils. John, the disciple, sees this and forbids it: Because he was not one of us, we tried to stop him. In the name of the community, John tries to stop someone else from doing good! He thought that to be a good disciple he had to monopolize Jesus and, thus, wanted to stop others from using the name of Jesus in doing good. This was the closed and old mind of the “Chosen people, a people set apart!” Jesus replies: You must not stop him! Anyone who is not against us is for us! (Mk 9:40). For Jesus, what is important is not whether the person is or is not a member of the community, but whether this person does or does not do the good that the community should be doing. Jesus had an ecumenical mind.
Mark 9:41: Anyone who offers a cup of water will be rewarded.
One of Jesus’ sayings was inserted here: If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not lose his reward. Two thoughts to comment on this saying: i) “If anyone gives you a cup of water”: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to give his life. The sign of a great offering! But he does not forget little offerings in daily life: a cup of water, a sign of welcome, an act of charity, and so many other signs to show our love. Anyone who despises the brick will never build a house! ii) “Because you belong to Christ”: Jesus identifies himself with us who wish to belong to him. This means that, for him, we are of great worth. Thus we must always ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus for me?” and also ask ourselves: “Who am I for Jesus?” This verse gives us an answer that is encouraging and full of hope.
Mark 9:42: A scandal to little ones.
A scandal is something that makes a person deviate from the straight path. To scandalize little ones is to cause little ones to deviate from the path and lose faith in God. Anyone who does so, is condemned to be: “thrown into the sea with a great millstone hung round his neck!” Why such harshness? Because Jesus identifies himself with the little ones (Mt 25:40.45). Anyone who hurts them, hurts Jesus! Today, in many places, the little ones, the poor, leave the Catholic Church and go to other churches. They can no longer believe in the Church! Why? Before we point the finger at the other churches, it is good to ask ourselves: why do they leave our house? If they leave it is because they do not feel at home with us. There must be something missing in us. How far are we to blame? Do we deserve the millstone around our necks?
Mark 9:43-48: Cutting off the hand and foot.
Jesus tells us to cut the hand or foot, to pluck out the eye, if these are the cause of scandal. He says: “It is better for you to enter into life crippled (maimed, with one eye), than to have two hands (feet, eyes) and go to hell”. These sayings cannot be taken literally. They are saying that we must be radical in our choice for God and for the Gospel. The expression, “Gehenna (hell), where their worm will never die nor their fire be put out”, is an image that depicts the situation of one without God. Gehenna was the name of a valley near Jerusalem, where the rubbish of the city was thrown and where there was a constant fire to burn the rubbish. This malodorous place was used by the people to symbolize the situation of one who had no part in the Kingdom of God.
c) Further information:
Jesus welcomes and defends the little ones
Many times, Jesus insists on welcoming little ones. “Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name, welcomes me” (Mk 9:37). “If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, then in truth I tell you, he will most certainly not go without his reward” (Mt 10,42). He asks that we do not despise the little ones (Mt 18:10). At the final judgment, the just will be welcomed because they gave food to “one of the least of these brothers of mine” (Mt 25:40).
If Jesus insists so much on welcoming little ones, it is because many little ones were not made welcome! In fact, women and children did not count (Mt 14:21; 15:38), they were despised (Mt 18:10) and bound to silence (Mt 21:15-16). Even the apostles forbade them to go near Jesus (Mt 19:13; Mk 10:13-14). In the name of God’s law, badly interpreted by the religious authorities, many good people were excluded. Rather than welcoming the excluded, the law was used to legitimise exclusion.
In the Gospels, the expression “little ones” (in Greek elachistoi, mikroi or nepioi), sometimes means “children”, at other times it means those excluded from society. It is not easy to distinguish. Sometimes what is “little” in the Gospel, means “children” because children belonged to the category of “little ones”, of the excluded. Also, it is not easy to distinguish between what comes from the time of Jesus and what from the time of the communities for whom the Gospels were written. In any case, what is clear is the context of exclusion in practice at the time, and the image that the first communities had of Jesus: Jesus places himself on the side of the little ones and defends them. What Jesus does in defence of the life of children, of little ones, is striking:
● Welcomes and forbids scandalizing them. One of Jesus’ hardest sayings is against those who give scandal to little ones, that is, who by their attitude deprive children of their faith in God. For such as these, it would be better to have a millstone tied round their necks and be thrown into the sea (Mk 9:42; Lk 17:2; Mt 18:6).
● Welcomes and touches. When children come to Jesus to get his blessing, the apostles are upset and want to send them away. According to the customs of those days, mothers and little children lived practically in a permanent state of legal impurity. To touch them meant incurring impurity! But Jesus corrects the disciples and welcomes the mothers and children. He embraces the children. “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them!” (Mk 10:13-16; Mt 19:13-15).
● Identifies with the little ones. Jesus embraces the children and identifies with them. Anyone who welcomes them “welcomes me” (Mk 9:37). “In so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).
● Asks the disciples to become like children. Jesus wants the disciples to become like children who receive the Kingdom like children. Otherwise it is not possible to enter the Kingdom (Mk 10:15; Mt 18:3; Lk 9:46-48). He says that children are the teachers of adults! This was not normal. We want to do the opposite.
● Defends their right to shout. When Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem, it is the children who shout the loudest: “Hosanna to the son of David!” (Mt 21:15). Children were criticised by the chief priests and Scribes, but Jesus defends them and even quotes Scripture in their defence (Mt 21:16).
● Is grateful for the Kingdom present in little ones. Jesus greatly rejoices when he realizes that the little ones understand the matters concerning the Kingdom that he proclaimed to the people. “Father, I thank you!” (Mt 11:25-26) Jesus sees that the little ones understand the things concerning the Kingdom better than the doctors!
● Welcomes and heals. Jesus welcomes, heals or raises from the dead many children and young people: Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter (Mk 5:41-42), the Canaanites’ daughter (Mk 7:29-30), the widow from Naim’s son (Lk 7: 14-15), the epileptic child (Mk 9:25-26), the Centurion’s son (Lk 7:9-10), the public servant’s son (Jn 4:50), the child with five loaves and two fishes (Jn 6:9).
6. Praying Psalm 34 (33)
A poor man shares his faith with us
I will bless Yahweh at all times,
his praise continually on my lips.
I will praise Yahweh from my heart;
let the humble hear and rejoice.
Proclaim with me the greatness of Yahweh,
let us acclaim his name together.
I seek Yahweh and he answers me,
frees me from all my fears.
Fix your gaze on Yahweh and your face will grow bright,
you will never hang your head in shame.
A pauper calls out and Yahweh hears,
saves him from all his troubles.
The angel of Yahweh encamps around
those who fear him, and rescues them.
Taste and see that Yahweh is good.
How blessed are those who take refuge in him.
Fear Yahweh, you his holy ones;
those who fear him lack for nothing.Young lions may go needy and hungry,
but those who seek Yahweh lack nothing good.
Come, my children, listen to me,
I will teach you the fear of Yahweh.
Who among you delights in life,
longs for time to enjoy prosperity?
Guard your tongue from evil,
your lips from any breath of deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good,
seek peace and pursue it.
The eyes of Yahweh are on the upright,
his ear turned to their cry.
But Yahweh's face is set against those who do evil,
to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
They cry in anguish and Yahweh hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
Yahweh is near to the broken-hearted,
he helps those whose spirit is crushed.
Though hardships without number beset the upright,
Yahweh brings rescue from them all.
Yahweh takes care of all their bones,
not one of them will be broken.
But to the wicked evil brings death,
those who hate the upright will pay the penalty.
Yahweh ransoms the lives of those who serve him,
and there will be no penalty for those who take refuge in him.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.