Gospel Reading (Mk 9:38-48)
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
39But 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. 40Whoever is not against us is for us.
41For 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.
42“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. 43If 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.
45And 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. 47And 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, 48where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
Pointers for Sunday Reflection
This Sunday’s gospel reading is one of the explanations of Mark on the conundrum of the little-child image that Jesus placed in the midst of his disciples who, on the road back home, had been arguing with one another who was the greatest (9:33-34). Taking the child in His arms, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me” (vv. 36-37). What does this child really represent? How can one accept the child and become the greatest?
Tolerance and Non-Exclusivist Attitude. The first child-like attitude is explained by Mark in vv. 38-41. These verses talk of other exorcists who, in the name of Jesus were casting out demons. However, these were not members of the company of the twelve. It is interesting to note that the actions of the disciples toward these were to stop them because they were not following them (v.38). On the contrary, Jesus’ advise was more of an inclusivist mentality, a recognition of a shared responsibility, an appreciation of the goodness in others. He forbade his disciples from stopping them, for if indeed they perform deeds of power in His name, they will never speak ill of Jesus.
This is a cross section of the heart of Jesus in contrast to the attitude of his disciples. While on the one hand the disciples were thinking of a privileged in- group mentality, an exclusivist, distinctive and separate behavior, on the other hand Jesus speaks of a shared responsibility, a collective and empowered many. A recognition that God’s grace is not necessarily limited to the few.
Not a Stumbling-block to Believers. The second metaphor that interprets the child conundrum is the imperative not to become a stumbling- block or a cause of scandal to the believers (the little ones). There are two possibilities one can do if one is already a scandal to the believers and thus causing these to sin. The first is the cutting ties with the community by means of acceptance of exile or self banishment “…better for you that a millstone were hung around your neck and you were throne into the sea” (v.42). It would be a great act of service for one not to be the cause of the sinning of others. The second, the better option is to cut oneself off from the root causes of scandal, to decisively root out within one’s life the causes of being a stumbling block—if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off… if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off… if your eye causes you to stumble… (vv. 43-48). Surely these cannot be taken literally for if even, both hands were cut, and both eyes were gauged out, or both feet are gone, yet one can still become a scandal and cause of the sinning to the believers.
Interesting in this exhortation of Jesus is that the turning away from being a cause of sin is a personal decision. It is a personal choice to “cut off” oneself, so to say, from scandalous lifestyles, attitudes and mentality. The “cutting off” symbolizes a painful and long process. Indeed, it is not an easy effort to correct oneself from pride, arrogance, injustice specially if these have become almost second nature and a form of a life style. There is no easy way out from a mentality of corruption and having acquired a throw-away culture, or a culture of death. A long, painful and tedious conversion process is necessary. The least a believer can do is not to be a cause of sin, and the best one can become is to be an example for faithfulness, humility and graciousness to all believers.
To be child the Challenge
To become a child is not an easy process. It is not about age. It is about becoming and having the mind and the heart of Christ once more even at what physical age one is. To be open to others, to see in others God’s goodness and graciousness, not to envy others that usually leads to destroying others—these are ways of becoming like a child dear to Jesus and greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Likewise, not to be the cause of sins for others, to become a model of humility, goodness, fidelity and a mirror of the very life of Jesus for others is another way of becoming the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
Are we ready to become a child of God once again?