•Numbers 11:25-29 • James 5:1-6 • Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48•
Weekly Readingss: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Several weeks ago I I developed my homily around the ache and a restlessness that haunts all of us throughout our lives. No matter the degree of happiness and fulfillment we enjoy, there remains an unfulfilled yearning within us. In our Catholic household of faith we name that a yearning for God. A spin off of that yearning is that we always want to be more and to do more.
We see this in Mark description of an argument among the close companions of Jesus. “Who among us is greatest?” With a tender, symbolic gesture involving a small child, Mark’s Jesus tried to draw his companions out of their illusionary ambitions. Apparently they didn’t get it!
Our text today directly follows that story. As if out of nowhere John, one of Jesus’ disciples, changes the subject. He is disturbed by an unexpected development. Someone outside the circle of the disciples is successfully driving out demons in Jesus’ name.
He says to Jesus, “listen! Instead of talking about serving the little people, here is a real
problem that needs fixing. Somebody out there is doing what we do. We tried to stop it, but were not successful. You must do something about this.” John was obviously sincere. But he clearly is missing the point described in this sequence of events and conversations.
Jesus is engaged in the works of God. His struggle with the “demonic” seeks to free all human beings of all that prevents us from living a fully human life in peace. His passion, his work is to enhance human dignity for everyone. He set before us a vision of a world community. It is a community characterized by compassion and justice. He names this vision “the reign of God” or “God’s new reality” emerging among us.
John and his companions persisted in missing the point. They were still trying to figure out, “who among us is greatest?”
Jesus reproaches them for the stance they’ve taken. “Whoever is not against us is for us!”\
Common translations of the remainder of this text are misleading. The intense, violent images employed by Jesus are metaphorical. He is not telling us we need to do whatever it takes to avoid sin and ultimately to avoid hell. “The worms and unquenched fires of Gehenna” is not reference to a place of punishment commonly referred to as “hell.” “Gehenna” was a place just outside of Jerusalem where human sacrifice to the god Molech took place. In the time of Jesus it was a city dump where fires continuously consumed trash.
The Gracious Mystery we name God is is greater than any human idea of God, totally beyond our comprehension. Jesus understood and wanted his disciples to recognize that this Gracious Mystery works through others outside the view of our limited human vision. No one among us is “greater” than the others.
The tender, symbolic gesture of placing a small child in their midst is a great symbol reminding them that to follow Jesus is to be open and inclusive of all people. Our primary concern, as was his, is not about being “greatest.” Our task is to free people of whatever dehumanizes them in any way. Our task is to enable all people to be more fully alive and more fully human.