26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
There was a four-year-old boy who wanted to go to school but his mother told him that he must first know four English words. Later as he was watching TV, he heard a woman shouted, “Wonder woman!” he ran to his mother and told her he already knew an English word. “What is it?” asked the mother. The boy replied proudly, “Wonder woman.” His mother smiled and let him went off to the store. While he was buying sugar, he heard a man said, “25 cents.” While on his way home he saw two Americans talking to each other and one of them said, “Let’s go.” Again he saw two teenagers talking and one of them said, “It’s alright.”
Finally, when he went to school, the teacher asked him, “What is your name?” “Wonder woman!” the boy, with confidence, answered. The teacher was shocked. The teacher asked again, “How old are you?” “25 cents,” again was the answer. “I will take you to the principal’s office!” said the angry teacher. “Let’s go,” he said. “I will spank you!” said the teacher. ‘It’s alright,” he answered quickly.
Well, later, the little boy was not able to continue his studies on that year and was not one of the Grade One pupils.
In our gospel today, John and his companion-apostles met a man they did not know who expelled demons in Jesus’ name. And he knew that Jesus exclusively commissioned them to expel demons. This right to expel demons belongs to them. How dare this outsider, not a member of their group and even not met Jesus or exchanged words with Him, make use of His name? Since he was not a member of their group, most probably he was an impostor or a false prophet. So what they did was they stopped him because he was not a member of their group and to end a flagrant malpractice.
Actually, this gospel passage is dealing about membership in the Church. In the early church, the question arose as to what to do about those good people who were not disciples of Jesus and were not members of the Christian community. This is still a question for us today. Can people who do not believe in God or who belong to a non-Christian religion or a Christian be saved? Can a Christian Catholic who does not participate in the sacramental life and religious activities of the Church be still called a Catholic?
Like for example, Mahatma Gandhi. He was already dead but where is he now? Is he in heaven or in hell or at least in purgatory? He was not a Christian, not even a Catholic. And Catholics until a few decades ago believed that outside the Catholic Church there is everything except salvation. He was planning to become a Christian but did not pursue it from the day he was refused admission to worship in a Christian church in South Africa because he was colored and so therefore turned his back on Christianity. Although he was a Hindu but he believed in the unique power of Christ’s teachings and told Winston Churchill that the only way for world peace is that all nations abide by the beatitudes. He even practiced one of the hardest sayings of Jesus: “Love your enemies.”
St. Mark, in today’s gospel, gives an answer to this question and does a balancing act. For those people who are not members of this Christian community or who do not follow Jesus, he tells us, Jesus appreciates all the good that were done by these people. He is tolerant and refuses to show any sign of rejection. He is considerate to them. He even says, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward,” (v. 41).
But this is not an excuse for us who belong to this Christian community. It is because Jesus says so, then we are excused not to do our part as Christians. Let us always remember that Jesus during Sabbath day went to synagogue. And every day, during night, Jesus went to a deserted place in order to pray and to be in communion with God. Before he ascended into heaven, he instructed His disciples to go to the whole and preach the good news.
September 5, 2000, the Vatican released a theological document called, Dominus Iesus. Its purpose was to correct Church theologians who were distorting the true meaning of the spirit of ecumenism. In this document the Catholic Church rejected pluralism that implies that all religions are equal. To teach that one religion is as good as another one endangers the Church’s missionary message that the fullness of salvation can only be found in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As some of you may have heard, this document created a worldwide reaction from a number of Christian religions. At the same time, some of them admitted that this document proposed nothing new, that this has always been the position of the Holy Catholic Church. The difficulty that they had was that they had not heard the Vatican II expressing it so openly since before Vatican II.
On the other hand, St. Mark says that Jesus is demanding to people who claimed to be His followers, those people who are members of His community, including ourselves. Jesus says: “If you 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…….,” (vv. 43-48). And so for them, Jesus demands, there is no compromise, no easy-going attitude or laxity in judgment and practice.
William Barclay said that the Jewish rabbis had sayings based on the way in which some part of the body can lend themselves to sin. They said that the eye and the heart are two brokers of sin, the two handmaids of sin. And also there are instincts in man and certain parts of man’s physical constitution which minister to sin. This saying of Jesus is not to be taken literally, but is a vivid eastern way of saying that there is a goal in life worth any sacrifice to attain it.
Like St. Thomas More, he made a sacrifice for his faith in God. St. Thomas More entered public life after he graduated from Oxford University. He rose rapidly as a government official. In 1529, King Henry VIII honored him by appointing him Chancellor of England.
But King Henry VIII divorced his queen and remarried unlawfully. To combat opposition to his marriage, Henry ordered certain dignitaries of the state to sign a document, wearing under oath that his remarriage was lawful. Henry passed word along to the dignitaries that if they refused to sign the document, they would be arrested for treason.
A dramatic scene occurred when Lord Norfolk brought the document to Thomas More. Thomas refused to sign it; no amount of persuasion would change his mind. Finally Lord Norfolk lost his patience. He said to his friend: “Oh confound all this…I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at this names…You know this men! Can’t you do what I did and come along with us, for fellowship?”
St. Thomas still refused. He would swear to something that he knew in his heart was wrong. He was arrested. On July 16, 1535, he was executed for treason.
Let us be very considerate of people outside the Church and be sure our own responsibility of preaching the Good News to others though our word and deed.
Fr. A. Francis HGN