26th Sunday Ordinary time, 9-30-18
Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8-14, James 5:1-6, Mark 9: 38-48
I was talking to a priest friend a couple of weeks ago, and we were discussing how to make our faith lives more meaningful. She said she had bought a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet. I was pretty skeptical that a bracelet would help; I asked, “Really?” “Yes,” she said with great enthusiasm, “It makes me think about what I’m doing, and ask if Jesus would do it.”
And that is exactly what all of our readings are about today. They all are “rubber meets the road”/ “what would Jesus do” situations. If you heard Fr. Joe’s homily last Sunday, you heard him explain that a child was the least valuable person in a household in Jesus’ day. A child was not an asset, but a liability! And yet Jesus teaches that if anyone welcomes a child into their life (and we can expand that to mean any social outcast or any marginalized person), then they welcome Jesus into their life, and not only welcome Jesus but also God.
Our reading in Mark begins today with the very next verse; you could call it an attitude adjustment session. John speaks up and asks about a man he saw performing a healing miracle in the name of Jesus. This is the same John who was arguing last week about being the greatest of the apostles. John would like to shut that healer down, since that man wasn’t with Jesus and the apostles. He says, “We tried to prevent him from doing it”. That guy was a “them” and not one of “us”. Jesus says, “Don’t stop him! If he can do a miracle in my name to heal someone, at least he won’t be bad mouthing me!”
This is a wonderful answer, so very practical, with a touch of humor. At the same time, it tells us exactly what Jesus would do when confronting prejudice, or exclusion by someone who thinks they are elite and an insider, someone who imagines they have privilege and priority over others just because of the people they know or travel with. Some people always try to make the circle smaller. By that I mean, they want to keep the power for themselves. They want to only associate with people who will agree with them. Jesus is always making the circle bigger, including non-Jews, a tax collectors (Matthew), women, (like the one who washed his feet with her tears), political activists (Simon the zealot), a thief (Judas), fishermen (Peter/James/John), and Paul (a Pharisee-of all things- and tent maker), to name a few.
Wait, there’s still more about any ideas of feeling superior. What about the poor and the needy? Jesus has a way of making this very personal to the apostles. There must have been many times that an apostle was given a cup of water on the long, dusty road to Jerusalem (no vending machines). Jesus says that a person will be given a reward by God for as simple a thing as giving a follower of his a drink of water. In Luke, the apostles wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village that wouldn’t give them water. (9: 54) A cup of water was important, just like many simple kindnesses we can do for others. People can be rich or poor and still need kindness. There is no “us” or “them” for Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate level playing field.
What about the “children” of the world- those who are innocent, or naïve, those who are not clever, not quick, not wise, not experienced; those who have no one to protect or teach them, those who struggle with their faith or are easily led astray? There is no “me” and “you” in the kingdom of God, but there are severe consequences for taking advantage of the vulnerable or using them unfairly – like being thrown into the sea with a millstone around their neck! Have you ever seen a millstone? It doesn’t take a WWJD bracelet to figure out Jesus’ attitude toward those who prey on the vulnerable.
Finally, we get the three ways Jesus uses the body to give us an image of how important our choices are. Your hand, your foot, or your eye, he says, is a small price to pay to avoid sin and the punishment of “unquenchable fire.” But loss of a hand or foot or eye is an enormous loss; the loss is great to illustrate how very great the consequence is. Jesus is suggesting, of course, that while old habits die hard and change is difficult sometimes, we must change our attitudes, our thoughts, and our behaviors to be his followers.
But there is another lesson here, equally important or possibly more so, about our desires to feel “greater”. To understand, we must look more closely at Jesus. Two weeks ago I asked you, “How do we, on 1 hand, confess that Jesus is the Christ, and on the other hand, accept the violence and shame and humiliation of the cross?” Jesus tells the apostles three times that he will be killed; he will die at the hands of men in Jerusalem. St. Paul wrote “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and foolishness to the Gentiles.” (1Cor1:23)
Some people found the humility of Jesus to be ridiculous, absurd. The Messiah, they thought, would come with thousands of angles, who would wipe out the Romans, and take control. They expected a strong, military leader, like King David, who would use force to set the world right – or at least, right for them.
Yet this Jesus was the Son of God? Who allowed himself to be berated and ridiculed, beaten and whipped, tortured and crucified? He traveled with “lowlife” fisherman, people who were sick, and known sinners, instead of demanding the power and status of a god. Jesus held no property, had no job or income, had left his family and never used his popularity for political gain. James says “He offered no resistance (to his death).
Can people look at me and see anything that looks like Jesus? Does my life show humility? I think I need to have 2nd chances on some things. Can others tell I am a Christians even I never speak? Can we live as the last of all and the servant of all? Maybe the behavior of Christ speaks even louder than his teaching, and “What Would Jesus Do?” is, in fact, the pivotal question.