26th Sunday Homily Year B September 30,2012
First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29;
Second Reading:James 5:1-6;
Gospel: Mk 9:38-43, 45-48
Reading 1 Nm 11:25-29
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
"Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, "
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses?aide, said,
"Moses, my lord, stop them."
But Moses answered him,
"Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
Responsorial Psalm Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
R. (9a) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Though your servant is careful of them,
very diligent in keeping them,
Yet who can detect failings?
Cleanse me from my unknown faults!
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant;
let it not rule over me.
Then shall I be blameless and innocent
of serious sin.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
2nd Reading 2 Jas 5:1-6
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded, #and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire. #You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
GOSPEL MK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
At that time, John said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
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.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your 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,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
1: "Could you not have tolerated him for just one meal?" There is legend told about Abraham, the grand patriarch of the Jews, in the Mideast. According to the legend, Abraham always held off eating his breakfast each morning until a hungry person came along to share it with him. One day an old man came along, and, of course, Abraham invited him to share his breakfast with him. However, when Abraham heard the old man say a pagan blessing over his food, he jumped up and ordered the old man out from his table, and from his house. Almost immediately, God spoke to Abraham. “Abraham! Abraham! I have been supplying that unbeliever with food every day for the past eighty years. Could you not have tolerated him for just one meal?" We are all children of God, and, hence, we have to love and tolerate everyone, as explained in today’s first reading and the gospel. (Jack McArdle).
2: Gandhi, Mandela, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. With our fallen human nature, we fall victim to the evil tendency of trying to control the Spirit of God by our intolerance. Our own arrogance insists that another is not qualified to speak on justice or morality because of his/her lower educational qualifications, low-grade lifestyle, humble social background or race. As a society, we also tend to question people’s legitimacy – especially when they challenge us. Mohandas Gandhi, a Hindu leader in India, challenged the colonial rule of the British Empire over India with his principles of peace and non-violence. But the intolerant British Empire, initially dismissing him as a “silly, half-naked fakir,” tried to silence him by imprisonment. But later they found, to their horror, that the entire nation was behind him in its fight for freedom from colonial rule. Nelson Mandela was ignored by the minority ruling class and was jailed for many for years as a radical because of his option for the poor and the oppressed in South Africa. Dorothy Day was imprisoned in the U. S. for her beliefs and was accused of being a Communist. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged a nation and its policy of discrimination. He was continually under surveillance by the FBI and was accused of inciting sedition and of being unpatriotic. There are Christians who still look on believers belonging to non-Christian religions and on members of Christian denominations different from their own as heretics and semi-pagans. In today’s gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a lesson in Christian tolerance along with a warning against jealousy and scandal.
Today’s readings give us a strong warning against jealousy, intolerance and scandal. In the first reading, we find jealousy, in its destructive form of envy, raising its ugly head in Moses’ assistant and successor, Joshua. Joshua could not tolerate the two men who had been on the list, but had not attended, the Spirit-giving ordination ceremony Moses and they had been called to by the Lord God in the Tent of Meeting, yet had started prophesying in the camp. This selection is intended to provide a Biblical background for Jesus’ response to the same kind of jealousy. In the second reading, James warns the rich against giving scandal by their denial of social justice to their workers in refusing to give them a living wage, by ignoring the needs of others and by condemning and murdering the innocent and the righteous. Baptism commits every Christian to work for social justice through peaceable (rather than violent), means. In the Gospel, we find intolerance among the apostles of Christ. John complained to Jesus that a man outside their group of selected disciples was exorcising demons in Jesus’ Name, in spite of their attempt to prevent him from doing so. Jesus taught the Apostles lessons in his kind of tolerance and in the reward to be given to outsiders for good deeds they had done for the disciples of Jesus. We also hear the strong warning of Jesus against giving scandal, especially to innocent children, vulnerable members of the community and beginners in the faith. Jesus warned the Apostles, and us, that, just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything that causes us or others to sin and which leads to spiritual death. Jesus is inviting us to integrate our bodies into our following of Christ, so that our hands become instruments of compassion, healing and comfort, our feet help us to bring the Gospel to the world and our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty all around us.
FIRST READING, NUMBERS 11:25-29:
The Book of Numbers was written down after the Exile, in the 6th century BC, by Jewish priests who were hoping to put the broken nation back together, and to keep it faithful to God. Chapter 11 has two stories of God's responses to the continuing complaints of the wandering Israelites. First, they had lamented the absence of meat from their diet, comparing the manna unfavorably to the variety of foods they had eaten while enslaved in Egypt. Moses appealed to God, saying that he was unable to manage the people alone. God heard his plea and told him to select seventy elders --- experienced men from among the tribes --- whom God would appoint as leaders of the people under Moses, and assemble them in the Tent of Meeting. Moses did so, and there God bestowed on them part of the spirit He had given Moses. At once, they began to prophesy---a sign to the people that God had appointed them as His representatives. But Joshua, a relative of Moses who was jealous for Moses' reputation, complained about two men named Eldad and Medad. Though both had been on Moses’ list of 70, neither had attended the Spirit-giving ordination ceremony in the Meeting Tent, yet both were prophesying. Moses asked Joshua, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" and reminded him gently that God is free to choose anyone He pleases as His prophet. Through Baptism, all of us are made God's ministers and God’s prophets. We are filled with God's Spirit and empowered to interpret God's vision and message to the people around us, and we are not to grow jealous of those serving the community in positions of greater authority or working for the community in different venues.
SECOND READING, JAMES 5:1-6:
The passage from James illustrates how the rich give scandal by their unjust treatment of laborers and their gross violation of the principles of social justice. Today's passage is a straightforward moral condemnation and a strong denunciation of the unscrupulous rich who enrich themselves by treating others unfairly and spend their riches in self-indulgence. Withholding a day-laborer's wage was a terrible act of injustice, tantamount to murder in the agricultural economy of the ancient Middle East. James is merciless in his condemnation of ill-gotten wealth. There's hardly a more emphatic passage in the New Testament. Baptism commits every Christian to work for social justice through peaceable (rather than violent), means. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on social justice echoes the tradition of James.
Today’s gospel gives us lessons in Christian tolerance and exemplary Christian living.
1) Warnings against jealousy and intolerance:
The apostles wanted to reserve God's love and healing power to themselves as the "sole owners" and "authorized distributors"! We hear John complaining to Jesus that a stranger was driving out demons in Jesus’ Name, though he was not of their company. They wanted Jesus to condemn the man. As occasionally unsuccessful exorcists, they may have been jealous of this stranger. Jesus, however, reprimanded his disciples for their jealousy and suspicion and invited them to broaden their vision and to recognize God's power wherever it was found. Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus challenged a rigid understanding of ministerial legitimacy. He wanted the apostles to rejoice in the good that others did, for God was the Doer of all good. Jesus enunciates a principle for his disciples: "Anyone who is not against us is for us." God can and does use anyone to do His work. The Church has no monopoly on God's work, truth, love or power to heal and reconcile. The work of the Kingdom is not confined to the baptized, although it is certainly our special work. This lesson is especially valuable today. Intolerance rising from fear and envy has a long history in the Christian Church and Christians are still known for a spirit of intolerance. Ask the average person on the street what he/she thinks is a Christian attitude, and he/she will use words like "judgmental," "narrow-minded," "dogmatic," "condemning," and "intolerant." The road to the brotherly love Jesus commands must begin with each of us. The cause of Christ is not served by one's rejecting other ways to God than one’s own, or by one's claiming that no real good can take place outside the boundaries of one's own denomination. It is through mutual respect that we find common ground with others and discover strengths in different beliefs. Wherever we see God's work being done, we should give it our support and be ready to work together with those doing the work, whether they are Christians or not, believers or not.
2) A millstone for the scandal-giver:
Jesus' second warning is against scandal-givers: those who cause the “little ones” to sin. The Greek word for "little ones" is micron, meaning the smallest or the least. It can mean children, those who are new to the faith, or those who are weak in faith. Jesus is pointing out that the scandalous behavior of older believers can be an obstacle to those whose faith is just beginning to develop. Etymologically, the word scandal comes from the Greek skandalon, which was a trap-stick or bent sapling used for a snare. With a skandalon a hunter could catch a rabbit or other small prey. We may remember how the Enron scandal, the Monica Lewinsky affair, and of course, the horrible sexual abuse of children by the clergy were pictured by the media. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines scandal as “an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil” (#2284).
3) Modern scandal-givers:
The truly dangerous people to whom Jesus is referring are those evil ones who wear the mantle of religious leadership, and at the same time, by their counter-witness, turn the weak and the innocent away from God, and cause them to sin. Today, we know the irreparable harm done to the Church and the faithful by the scandals of clerical sex abuse. Likewise, scandal is often given by unorthodox theologians and false preachers, who propagate their anti-Christian ideas under the guise of Biblical and psychological research. Professors, even at some Christian universities, sometime advocate moral relativism and nihilism, converting students to their false beliefs. Even teachers at Catholic universities sometimes criticize papal pronouncements as “an infringement on academic freedom." Do they not give scandal? Our major social institutions — the news media, the Internet, law, public education, and the entertainment industry -- under the guise of “freedom of speech and expression,” often seem hostile towards religion, erecting stumbling blocks to believers. We have an obligation to make known, with Christian courage, our views on these matters so as to protect the innocent.
4) Interpreting Jesus' words about self-mutilation?
Our hands become instruments of sin according to what we touch and how we touch, in lust or greed or violence. Our feet are used for sin according to the places we have them take us. Our eyes become doorways for sins according to what we choose to look at or refuse to look at. However, it is important to understand that, in these passages about "plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand," Jesus is not speaking literally. We have more sins than we have bodily parts. Besides, even if all offending parts were removed, our hearts and minds -- the source of all sins-- would still be intact. Hence, these sayings are actually about our attitudes, dispositions, and inclinations. Jesus is inviting us to integrate our bodies into our following of Christ, so that our hands become instruments of compassion, healing and comfort, our feet help us to bring the Gospel to the world, and our eyes learn to see the truth, goodness and beauty all around us. By these startling words about self-mutilation, Jesus also means that we must cut out of our lives all practices that keep us away from God, and retain only those habits that draw us closer to God. Jesus is setting before all his disciples the one supreme goal in life that is worth any sacrifice. That goal is God himself and His will for our lives, which alone leads us to everlasting peace and happiness. Just as a doctor might remove a limb or some part of the body in order to preserve the life of the whole body, so we must be ready to part with anything which causes us to sin and which leads us or others to spiritual death. Billy Graham has a fantastic way of summing up this gospel message by concluding his Crusades with a final challenge: "Decide! Cut away anything that prevents you from a radical decision for Jesus Christ! Decide for Christ!"
1) We need to avoid conduct that can lead to scandal.
We give scandal and become stumbling blocks to others
a) when we are unkind or unjust in our treatment of them,
b) when we reject them because of their weakness, faults or sins,
c) when we humiliate them by hurting their pride and damaging their self-image,
d) when we discourage, ignore, or refuse to accept them,
e) when we ridicule them or deflate their dreams,
f) when we follow a double standard: "Do as I say; don't do as I do,"
g) when we set standards which are so high that we are unable to meet them ourselves, and
h) when we become judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a level of commitment that we feel is too low to be useful.
On the other hand, we become good role models
a) when we support and guide others in moments of doubt, weakness, and suffering,
b) when we increase other people’s self-confidence by accepting them as they are and enabling them to discover their hidden talents,
c) when we help them to grow by inspiring and correcting them,
d) when we forgive them and listen to them with patience, and
e) when we make ourselves examples of Christian witnessing.
2: Let us learn the Christian virtue of tolerance:
Christian tolerance asks that we bear with the weaknesses of others, without condoning the evil they do. Intolerance is a sign of a weak faith. Intolerance is also ineffective. It does nothing but damage to the cause it seeks to defend. When we attack a heretic, we don’t change his mind, for the most part. We just give him an audience. To ban a book, is, almost surely, to make it a best seller. Condemning a sinner immediately draws people to defend him. An intolerant attitude will alienate, rather than attract, sinners. Only genuine agape love can overcome hatred. The Church should display this patient love to a hate-filled world. The Church is expected to present Christ to the world. How can the Church present him when it is arrogant or intolerant rather than loving others as Christ loves us? We cannot exalt love by encouraging hate. Hence, let us try both to learn and to practice the virtue of Christian tolerance in our interfaith and ecumenical endeavors by
a) remaining true to our conscience and beliefs,
b) respecting the differences we encounter,
c) working together on projects of common interest,
d) affirming what is good in the other person’s position, even when we disagree on certain things, and
e) allowing the light of Christ to shine through our loving words and deeds.
Two Kinds of Guilt: Introduction (catechetical homily in two parts)
From: Gospel and First Reading
It is not uncommon to hear Catholics who have fallen away from the Church complain about "Catholic guilt."
They explain that as they grew up in the Catholic Church, they were constantly badgered about sin, and were taught that God is angry and vindictive, watching over our every move, just waiting for a chance to catch us doing wrong and condemn us. This negative view of God and religion stifled their spiritual growth, they go on to explain. They didn't think it was healthy, and they didn't like it, so one day they left the Church and simply didn't come back. Today's Readings seem to fit right in with that kind of experience.
In today's Second Reading, St James is clear, direct, and forcible in his denunciation of sin. He reminds his readers that if they let greed dominate their lives, if they commit injustices against their neighbor in order to enjoy comfort themselves, they will not escape their punishment, and it will be a painful punishment. Even today's Gospel passage chimes in on the same note. Jesus uses language that we find shocking to convince us that sin is a horrible thing, the worst thing in the world, in fact. So far, the fallen away Catholic's critique holds true: the Catholic Church is energetically against sin; we believe that sin is real, destructive, and to be avoided at all costs.
Sin is the number one enemy of God and the human race, and so it is also the number one enemy of each one of our lives, the biggest obstacle to the happiness and fulfillment we crave.
But the next part of the fallen away Catholic's critique isn't so obvious - the part about God being constantly angry and our spiritual lives being stunted by guilt.
In fact, that critique comes from a misunderstanding of what the Church teaches about guilt. If we can have in our minds the right understanding of guilt, we may be able to avoid straying off the good path ourselves, and help our wandering brethren come back into friendship with Christ. [Note: In the interest of time, you may want to skip some of the Illustrations and examples that are embedded in the different parts of this catechetical homily.]
Part I: Good Guilt
Basically, there are two kinds of guilt: good guilt and bad guilt.
Good guilt is like a spiritual nervous system.
Our physical nervous system is designed (at least in part) to help us recognize and avoid physical danger.
So, for example, when we touch a hot piece of metal, our immediate reaction is to pull away, so we don't get burned or damaged by it. Or, to take another example, if smoke from a fire starts seeping into a room, we start finding it hard to breathe; we start coughing. These are signs from our physical nervous system that we better get out of that room before we suffocate. Imagine if your nervous system was malfunctioning, and it wasn't able to warn you about bodily threats - you would be in an extremely dangerous situation.
Well, good guilt, healthy guilt, performs this same function for our souls.
Physical health is good for our bodies in the same way as moral health is good for our souls. And moral health means doing good actions and avoiding evil actions. If our conscience is in good condition, it will register guilt when we commit, or toy with committing, evil actions. That guilt is a warning against performing or persisting in evil actions, because committing evil damages our interior peace and integrity, just as a hot piece of metal will damage our skin and breathing smoke will damage our lungs. In this sense, the Bible's warnings against sin are not the expressions of an angry and vindictive God.
On the contrary, they are a sign of God's infinite love; he knows that committing evil, even though it sometimes appears to give us a short term benefit, is destructive, both for ourselves and for others. In fact, the "punishment" for sin isn't something that God adds on, the way a judge in a court of law sentences a criminal. Rather, it consists precisely in the pain and misery caused by the sin itself - just as the child who plays with knives even when his parents warn him not to suffers pain and misery when he cuts himself. It would be a mean and selfish God that didn't warn us about the destructive consequences of evil actions.
But it is a good and wise God who has given us the gift of a conscience, which helps us experience good guilt to warn us against committing sins, and to move us to repent if we have committed them.
Part II: Bad Guilt
The second kind of guilt is bad guilt.
This occurs when we feel guilty without having done anything wrong.
This is the kind of unhealthy guilt that can stifle our spiritual and emotional maturity by leading to moral confusion.
Unhealthy guilt makes us blame ourselves for things that are not blameworthy, or for things that we had no responsibility for. When we do that, we become emotionally and spiritually tangled up, almost paralyzed. This is because there is no escape from this feeling of guilt: we cannot be forgiven for something we were not responsible for, or for something that wasn't a sin. And so, this guilt becomes like a cul-de-sac; we go round and round in our minds trying to find mercy and a fresh start, but we can't. It drains our energy and inhibits us from growing in our friendship with God and others, because we don't feel worthy of their love, and so we keep them at a distance.
Optional Commentary: Two Sources of Bad Guilt
ad guilt can come from at least two sources.
First, it can come from not distinguishing between sins and simple mistakes.
For example, if I sincerely forget to send my mom a Mother's Day card, I may have strong feelings of regret, but I shouldn't feel morally guilty about it - it was just a mistake, an oversight, not a morally evil act. If, on the other hand, I purposely avoid calling my mom on her birthday because I'm nursing resentment about something she said five years ago and I want to offend her, then I ought to feel guilty; Christians honor their parents, they don't hold grudges against them. Second, bad guilt can be the result of a defective authority figure.
This happens often in families that go through a divorce.
The pain and conflict between the parents inhibit them from giving proper love and discipline to the children. As a result, the children begin to feel responsible for the problems their parents are having; they blame themselves for the neglect they are experiencing. Or take the example of an unhappy, angry priest who is in charge of teaching the faith to the children of his parish.
Every week he rants and raves about how sinful people are and how painful the punishments of hell will be. He never speaks about the unlimited mercy of God, which is always ready to forgive us. He never speaks about the goodness of our heavenly Father, who has prepared a place for each one of us in heaven. He never speaks about the wonderful mission that each one of us has received in this life, a mission that only we can accomplish. Instead, he focuses over and over again, week after week, on the fires of hell and the selfish tendencies of our hearts. Over time, that can create a bad guilt, an unhealthy feeling of guilt simply for being alive, as if our existence itself were some kind of sin. Nothing is worse for our relationship with God than that.
Conclusion: Applying the Remedy
In either case, whether we are dealing with good guilt or bad guilt, the remedy is the same: returning to the loving embrace of God our Father.
If we are experiencing good guilt, we need to repent a