(James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48)
Someone from Cimarron asked me the other day, “According to the bible, who is in charge of making the coffee?” I said, “Excuse me.” She said, “Biblically speaking, who makes the coffee?” I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “He-brews.”
Things are pretty rough in Cimarron.
These chapters from Mark’s Gospel are the real catechism of the church. There, Jesus is trying to teach his followers how to be his disciples. Today, we have three difficult teachings to think about. First, the beloved apostle John complains to Jesus that some other guy who is not in their inner circle is performing powerful acts in Jesus’ name and he wants Jesus to reprimand him, but Jesus won’t and says, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
The clue to John’s problem is when John says, “That guy does not follow us.” In other words, that guy does not follow me, John. Instead of getting people to follow Jesus, they really want others to follow them. They think they–not Jesus–are in charge, which is still a big problem today. Maybe it’s a male problem; most men get easily caught up in competition, jealousy and power. But it’s a big problem now with the male leadership of the church, with priests and bishops, who are trying to run the church by controlling and dominating others, instead of loving and welcoming and empowering everyone. Too often they are trying to prevent others from doing ministry in Jesus’ name.
The good news is that Jesus–the one who really is in charge–is completely different. He is not controlling or dominating. He is non-controlling, non-dominating and nonviolent. He is very free. He is always inviting and encouraging and empowering. He wants all of us to do good works and heal others and proclaim God’s reign in his name. He expects all of us to do great things in the name of Jesus. And he expects us to support one another in this work; not to prevent or put down those who minister in his name. This is as shocking now as it must have been to John and the disciples.
We see this too in the first reading when they go and tell Moses that some other people are prophesying and Moses says, “I wish everyone was a prophet!” He too wants everyone to get involved. We’re all supposed to be disciples, healers, saints, apostles and prophets, not to be jealous or controlling of each other, but to let each other do good things for God and to support one another in the works of goodness.
The second teaching Jesus gives is that “Anyone who gives you a cup of water because you belong to Christ will not lose his reward.” The disciples were probably scandalized by this too, because they would have expected rewards for themselves, not for someone who only gave a cup of water. Like them, we too are very judgmental. We decide who measures up, who’s good and who’s bad; who’s holy and who’s sinful; who deserves a reward from God and who doesn’t. But for Jesus, membership in his company, his community, is simply a matter of loving and caring for others, even down to the smallest act of giving a cup of water to someone in Christ.
As you know, in first century Palestine, giving a cup of a water to a Christian was subversive because Christianity was illegal. Christians were martyred for refusing to worship Caesar and refusing to join the military or support war. So if you gave a cup of water to someone because of Christ, you too might be killed; you would be considered on the side of Christ and would be hauled off to be fed to the lions. The Gospel is trying to support those who support the Christian movement, even someone who risks their life by giving a cup of water to a Christian. We could draw this out today to the powerful spiritual truth that every little act we do in the name of Christ for one another is important. Every little act of kindness and love we do for one another has spiritual, cosmic and eternal consequences. So we should help each other do good.
Lastly, we have this difficult teaching about avoiding sin and evil at all costs. Jesus does not want us to hurt anyone ever again. Jesus does not want us to sin ever again. He then goes ballistic and says, if your hand sins, chop it off. It’s really shocking, but back then, and in some places today, if you chopped off someone’s hand, or simply stole something, instead of putting you in jail, they would chop off your hand. Here the Gospel takes this unjust punishment and turns it around. Jesus says he does not want us to hurt, judge or punish one another, but he does want us to judge ourselves; to make sure we stop hurting one another, that we stop sinning, no matter what. And he urges us to take drastic nonviolent means to change ourselves, to convert our own hearts and lives. He talks about hell because he knows well that everything we do has spiritual consequences, so we have to try hard not to do anything mean or violent to anyone around us and not to support violence and the institutionalized, structured sin of the world, beginning with organized mass murder which our country is now engaging in against the suffering Iraqi people.
The reason Jesus says all this tough stuff is because he has a specific goal for each one of us–“to enter into life,” to enter the reign of God. That’s the purpose of life: to do whatever we can, whatever it takes, nonviolently, beginning right now, to stop sinning so we can enter into the fullness of life and God’s reign of love, not just some day when we die, but today and for the rest of our lives.
This week, as we continue our prayer service novena to St. Francis, and look toward his feast day on Saturday, I invite us all once again to ponder his life and example so that like him, we can renounce violence and sin, and live the fullness of life, enter into life and God’s reign, right now, every moment, for the rest of our lives.