26th Sunday (B)

Jealousy, Intolerance and Scandal

In 1994, a British Sociologist of religion (Grace Davie) published a book on the rise of secularism in Britain since 1945 and the book is named Believing without Belonging. She says that most of the people who do not belong to the institutional religions have some form of belief about God, but they do not want to be part of a special religion due to one reason or other. There are also other books and articles written on the theme of Believing and Belonging. Today we find people belonging to the church does not believe in what the church teaches. Recently another British scholar (Abby Day) in her book Believing in Belonging suggests that actually people believe because they want to belong to a group that gives them identity.

The first reading talks abut God’s command to Moses to choose seventy eldersas helpers in the task of leading the people. So it was done, and God tooksome of the spirit that was on Mosesto distribute it to his helpers. It happened that Eldad and Medad  had not gone to the meeting tent, although they were part of the gathering, began to prophesy in the camp where they had remained. When Joshua heard this, he asked Moses stop them, probably because he feared his master’s authority would not be respected. Such words betray a practical misunderstanding of God’s freedom, of the nature and finality of his gifts. These gifts are ways and means for being of service to the community, and not personal prerogatives to be jealously guarded. God does not impoverish anyone by spreading his gifts among many. Moses does not resent the “new prophets” and is not jealous of their gifts. He wishes that all the people of the Lord might be prophets and hopes selflessly that the spirit of the Lord be bestowed on them all. Christian tradition would see Moses’ prayer fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

 In today’s Gospel John comes to Jesus, informing of an unknown exorcist who was using Jesus’ name to drive out demons.Jesus in his response, however, recommends openness, allowing anyone who wants to exorcise in his name, to do so freely. For, the man who uses Jesus’ name cannot be against him; nor will he speak ill of him, because “whoever is not against us, is for us”. Jesus states a general principle. One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ life and mission is openness: He was ready to accommodate and accept even those whom the society had given up: The call of Levi, the tax collector and his reaching out to sinners and outcasts prove this point.

If we truly want to be disciples of Jesus today, we will have to accept that not all the goodness in the world comes from our actions. We will have to learn to live with other people, who are not of our group, but nonetheless fight against evil, at least as much as we do. We are disciples of Christ who live according to his gospel, and seek to do good in his name, should rejoice that others also do the same good and fight the same fight against evil, in the name of Jesus Christ. We should be happy that Jesus Christ, Our Lord, inspires others whom we, by the way we live our Christian lives, have not been able to inspire. As disciples of Jesus we should be proud that the name of Jesus, his life and his ideas, inspire people that we have not been able to convince by our lives and our ideals.

The Gospel reading continues to underline the challenges of Christian discipleship. Confronting the evil of causing scandal to others, Jesus uses the imagery of the unquenchable fires of Gehenna. In order to avoid this unfortunate destiny, the disciples must be extremely cautious of giving bad example to anyone. Jesus asserted: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire”. Similarly our feet and eyes are to be controlled against any untoward behavior. Jesus’ remarkable saying is not to be taken literally, but the challenges should be understood as there can be no compromises.

Indeed, the Christian disciples need to be purified in their innermost motives. They need to be “salted with fire”and experience the purifying fire of trials by which the faithful become pleasing sacrifices to God and at peace with one another. They need to expunge the evils of ambition, intolerance and scandal from their midst. In place of these, they have to make a tough choice for primacy in service, for tolerance and openness to others of good will, and for integrity in their dealing with God’s “little ones”. Those who respond to the radical demands of Christian discipleship with zeal and passion become the “salt of the earth”. As the good “salt of the earth”, they continue to inspire people with the liveliness of the Gospel spirit and lead them to yearn for God’s kingdom.  

Let us avoid conduct that can lead to scandal.  We give scandal and become stumbling blocks to others: a) when we are unkind or unjust in our treatment of them, b) when we humiliate them by hurting their pride and damaging their self-image, c) when we discourage, ignore, or refuse to accept them, and d) when we become judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a level of commitment that we feel is too low to be useful.

Let us learn the Christian virtue of tolerance: Christian tolerance asks that we bear with the weaknesses of others (without condoning the evil they do), by: a) remaining true to our conscience and beliefs, b) respecting the differences we encounter, c) working together on projects of common interest, d) affirming what is good in the other person’s position, even when we disagree on certain things, and e) allowing the light of Christ to shine through our loving words and deeds.