26th Ordinary Sunday (Year B)
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29 Second Reading: James 5:1-6 Gospel Reading: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
"OUR REAL ENEMY IS NOT OUTSIDE OF US, BUT INSIDE, RIGHT WITHIN US!”
According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man's feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, "Don't you worship God?"
The old traveler replied, "I worship fire only and reverence no other god."
When Abraham heard this, he became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air.
When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, "I forced him out because he did not worship you."
God answered, "I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?"
Yes, God is tolerant with everyone. He is tolerant with you and with me. He is tolerant even with those who do not revere him. It is we who profile people according to caste, creed, class & color, and try to force them out. The common theme of today's Scripture Readings is that we should tolerate people who do not belong to our group – for, they are not our real enemies; our real enemy is sin and one should never tolerate it. So, “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
Today's first reading from the Book of Numbers echoes in pattern the first section of the Gospel. Moses, in the first reading, has appointed seventy elders to help him in his mission. The Spirit comes down upon the seventy, but also upon two others - not in the group. The seventy complain and want the two to be stopped, but they are rebuked by Moses. For Moses recognizes the two outsiders as a sign of the potentiality of the whole 'people of the Lord,' being prophets.
Similarly in the Gospel, Jesus has appointed twelve apostles to work in his mission. The apostles come upon someone else doing a work which is part of their own mission from Jesus and try to stop him. They want confirmation from Jesus in this, but he rebukes them and says that if the work is done in his name then it is not at odds with his mission - “Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
Now, Jesus always provokes a response in those who encounter him. It's true that there are those who want to follow but are afraid and those who are held back by something they don't want to leave behind. But in the end there are those who are for him, and those who are against. Jesus himself implies as much in today's Gospel Reading: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” And in different circumstances he says: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”
So who is for Jesus and who against?
In today's Gospel, Jesus cautions us against judging that those outside his group of disciples are against him. Someone not a disciple has been performing miracles in Jesus' name, and when the disciples complain about it Jesus admonishes them rather than the lone exorcist. No one, Jesus says, can do such a mighty work in his name and afterwords speak evil of him.
Nor is it that the exorcist is somehow for Jesus but against the disciples. When the disciples made their complaint, their grievance was that the man was not with us. Whom does this 'us' include, Jesus or just the disciples? Perhaps their concern was that the man wasn't following them rather than not following Jesus. So is Jesus replying that the exorcist, though he may not be with the disciples, is nevertheless for Jesus? No. Jesus doesn't either say that the man is for him, nor does he say he is for the disciples. He just says: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Jesus doesn't reject the exorcist, but he doesn't exclude the erring disciples either. Jesus and the disciples are 'us'. Whatever their mistakes, the disciples are never his enemies.
Who then are the ones who are really against Jesus?
Jesus' enemies might have been thought to be the Roman authorities, and indeed they are the ones to try him and put him to death. Moreover, Jesus struggled with Satan in the desert and set about despoiling his house by exorcising devils. He was opposed by the Sadducees who saw him as a threat to their religious and political position. He was opposed also by the Pharisees whose religiosity he lambasted and called them hypocrites.
And yet, in today's Gospel Reading Jesus singles out none of these as those who are against him. Instead he speaks against those who cause little ones who believe in him to sin, those who 'scandalize' believers. These, it seems, are those who are really against him, not an external enemy even, but someone within - any disciple could become a scandal to another believer - “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
We are used to thinking of a scandal as some disgraceful happening, but here 'to give scandal' means to behave in such a way that you encourage others to sin.
In our second reading of today from Letter of St. James, St James gives a wake up call to the rich who are selfish, proud and filled with greed, and who unjustly oppress the poor and don't pay their wages. Now that is already a heinous crime prompted from within their hearts: “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
But imagine if those rich people are also Christians! When other Christians see their behavior, they may feel justified in sinning themselves. So, the sin of the rich would be not just oppression but scandal too for others.
So, who is opposing God in our world today?
There are many who are against him, including those who campaign against religion and faith. But perhaps those who are really against God are those Christians who have ended up making themselves an 'enemy within', a scandal or a stumbling-block to the faith of others. “Our real enemy is not outside of us, but inside, right within us!”
Is that then us? Are we a stumbling block to others by our failure to live Christian lives in church and out of church? Have we given scandal by a lack of reverence for Christ in others?
In today's Gospel Jesus tells us that it would be better for those who give scandal to be drowned at the bottom of the sea, just as the Egyptians, the enemies of God's people, were drowned. There is, however, an alternative. In baptism the old Adam in all of us was drowned away. When the grace of our baptism is renewed, at Mass, in confession, or by any growth in charity, we drown away the enemy of God in us. Whenever we repent by God's grace and turn back to him and do penance, we cut off some unspiritual part of ourselves and throw it away. So, let us throw away today the enemy within us and never be scandals to others, but instead be a true disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ - tolerating everyone and accepting them in one fold, irrespective of their cast, creed, class or color.