Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic, Stone

Including Sacred Heart Church, Eccleshall
 

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26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B

Jealousy is a common and understandable feeling. It is, if we’re honest with ourselves, something which we have all experienced in one way or another. It is usually concerned and focused upon what someone else has, that we do not have, which often leads one to the sin of covetousness. But there is another, less common kind of jealousy that is even more powerful and subtle. That is the jealousy that the followers of a talented leader have towards any other competitors. This jealousy is often not promoted by the leader himself directly, since because of his ability he has nothing to be jealous about. Rather, he is the object of the jealousy of his own followers and supporters. But their concern is for their own ends. Those who identify strongly with the superior achievement of a leader (so his gain is their gain) are sensitive to fellow followers whom they see as rivals. They are afraid that they will lose out. A truly great person is not fazed by the petty jealousies of followers or subordinates. Real leaders have magnanimity — largeness of soul. Such magnanimity is the opposite of being threatened or made anxious by other talented people. Rather, it includes other gifted people in real leadership positions and co-operates and works with them. Today’s first reading illustrates such greatness of soul in Moses. But it is probably most identified in our minds in the person of John the Baptist. In his position of preparing the way for Christ, he was outstanding as a leader and a very holy man. But he disavowed any position of eminence saying — as we all recall: “That he was not worthy to loosen the strap of Christ’s sandals.” This is a remarkable rare leader who so willingly submits to, and accepts a secondary status.

In the first reading from the Book of Numbers, we see the same rare quality in Moses. Josiah and some of his followers tried to incite him to jealousy because there were others who seemed to have the same calling from God. But Moses shows true maturity as a leader. Such a mature person can let others come forward with whatever talents they have. So Moses says: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.” Far from any need to be jealous, Moses’ hope is that all the people could share the Spirit of the Lord. This is the exact opposite of the fear of Josiah and the other supporters of Moses. We see in Moses a greatness which is the opposite of the smallness and narrowness of those who wanted to stir up jealousy and resentment in him. He is pleased, excited and happy at the prospect of everyone sharing his prophetic gift so that the message of God could be more effectively carried out. This is the man of great soul who does not fear the ability and talents of others but rather, rejoices in it. He accepts the unfolding of Divine Wisdom and goodness and grace in everyone. This is not easy to do. Our own littleness/insecurity can get in the way. We can be afraid that somehow we may lose out, if another were to shine more brightly. This is why, in our fear, we need the example of Moses and John the Baptist both to guide us and reassure us. For the fear of Josiah lurks in all of us — even the apostles in today’s Gospel. We must struggle for something of Moses’ greatness of soul or John’s, if we are to let others increase and let ourselves decrease. We should not hinder the Spirit; He blows where He wills, for God does not impoverish anyone by spreading His gifts among many.

The teachings of Jesus that Mark has gathered together after the second prediction of the Passion (during the walk towards Jerusalem) deal with the disciples’ behaviour in the Christian community. This Sunday’s excerpt is made up of two strongly contrasting parts. In the first one the disciples complain of a: “Man who was not one of them casting out devils in Jesus’ name, and because he was not one of them they had tried to stop him.” It is John who speaks in this way, protective as he is of Jesus’ authority and of the authority of those Jesus had chosen by giving them the power of healing the sick and delivering those possessed by evil spirits. (Was this a touch of jealousy seen in the Old Testament reading?) The intention seems to be good but it betrays a narrow-mindedness that Jesus rejects. Who is this man? To what group did he belong? Whose disciple was he? The evangelist doesn’t say. No matter — the lesson is obvious: we must neither monopolize the right to do good nor belittle the good that others do, although they may not belong to the fold. Jesus said: “You must not stop him: no-one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Jesus shows great tolerance towards all those who, even though not belonging to the group of disciples, bring some relief to others by doing God’s work. “If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then, I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.” All who do good must be recognised as brothers and sisters, but we must also be careful to respect their freedom and their consciences. It is for the Lord to reveal to them the value of the least gesture of a brother or sister. On that day they will be able to hear Christ say to them without any mental reservation: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me; ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matt 25: 35-40) Disciples must generously serve whoever needs their help. For they know that any omission will be counted against them by the Just Judge.

The infinite thankfulness that the Lord will show to anyone who will have given even a glass of water to one of those who belong to him, allows us to understand his extreme severity towards those who would cause even one of His own to fall: they will have no excuse as is shown in the second contrasting part of the Gospel. Jesus enjoins on his disciples to pitilessly eradicate in themselves everything that can lead them to sin. To be an obstacle to someone is no light matter, no venial sin: an apparently trivial obstacle can cause a weak person to fall gravely — mortally. This way of acting is the more unforgivable because it runs counter to the duty of charity, whose delicacy must be tailored to the weakness of ‘The little ones.’ For we are all called to be ‘Little ones’ we are all called to be like children if we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven: more importantly we must renounce even our rights, rather than risk causing even one person to fall. Then Jesus turns to each of his disciples and says: “Anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck.” He continues: “If your hand, your foot, your eye causes you to sin, cut them off, gouge it out. It is better to enter life eternal maimed, lame, half blind, than to be thrown with your two hands, your two feet, your two eyes into hell, where their worm does not die nor their fire go out”.

Our Lord is not speaking of self-mutilation. It is a way of expression for Jesus’ time that stresses separating oneself from evil words, feeling and actions. Physical mutilations do not free us from malice and evil desires — that comes from the heart and leads to all sins, as we heard in the Gospel of the twenty-second Sunday. These are the Grace inhibiting things that need, through God’s Mercy, to be eradicated. Cleanse your heart, for it is the source from which all our thoughts, words, deeds and actions flow. The meekness of Jesus and his sternness, his open-mindedness and the rigour of his demands are not opposed to one another. It is always One and the same Lord who speaks. The coherence of his teaching appears when we look at him: him whose zeal for the good and whose love for his own cannot admit any sort of compromise. “If you remain in my word…. You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31)

It is a people of prophet’s that God wished to gather through Christ, a people of men and women who by word and action announce the world to come, the laws of which are not those of the present world, slave to all sorts of lusts. These men and women have the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount for their charter. They know that in these resides the true freedom of God’s children. But their ideal is not a certain idea of human nature: it is a human being — Jesus Christ, the Good News. Others, who do not share their faith, also work at building a new world, purified from evil and injustice. As we have said, the Spirit blows where it wills, may He make prophets out of more and more men and women — ourselves included!

Who is Christ? To this question, put to us from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel — and particularly on the Twenty-fourth Sunday — we are invited to give a personal answer, not only in words, but also in our way of living. To recognise Who Jesus Christ is, is to follow Him, to walk with Him, carrying His cross, on the path that His Pasch opened; It is to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. as We are called to live as God’s children befitting our baptismal calling by God our Father given through the Son. This is the narrow way, the royal way of an exodus where the luminous cloud guides the redeemed people, commissioned to announce to the world the Good News from which no-one is excluded. No doubt, to live in Christ is the most wonderful way, but it is not the only way. As for jealousy of any kind — there’s no room for it!

Christ became our Paschal Sacrifice. In Him a new age has dawned, the long reign of sin is ended, a broken world has been renewed, and man is once again made whole” (Easter Preface IV) “Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed: by destroying a fallen world, he made a new creation; from Him we now have the life He possesses in fullness.” And in this new life already won for us, we have the Lord’s assurance:

I tell you solemnly: he will most certainly not lose his reward.”

 

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