Rules of Life
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
NM 11.25 to 29; PS 19; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43.45.47-48
1) On the road with the Life that gives life and the rules of life.
The passage from the Gospel of Mark that is proposed on the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, tells two episodes of Christ’s life.
In the first John points out to Jesus that there is someone who drives out demons in His name without belonging to the group of his disciples. Jesus rightly underlines that every good work is always welcome because the source of goodness and love is God. Those who do good deeds are still and always on the side of Christ and of God. Jesus’ answer regarding the exorcist stranger to the group of disciples is inspired by great tolerance, and is identical to the attitude taken by Moses against Eldad and Medad during exodus (First reading of today’s Mass).
In the second episode Jesus urges his disciples not to scandalize the “little ones”, namely the brothers still immature in faith moving them away from the gospel with misconduct and a behavior inconsistent with the Gospel. To admonish his disciples the Messiah uses harsh expressions “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands and 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.” (Mk 9: 45.47-48). With these words, Jesus invites the disciples to an attitude inspired by humility, understanding and sacrifice to avoid the scandal that obscures the light of the Gospel.
We could formulate the invitation of Christ with the words that in ”The announcement to Mary” by Paul Claudel, Violaine, the protagonist now blind, does to the many who have the gift of sight “You who see, what did you do with light? ”
If we can convert first and foremost our heart, then those who live next to us, even though not believers, will understand that Jesus is not an incomprehensible and unacceptable theological formula in our minds, but the life of God in our hearts and the light to our steps. And though they will not change their religion, their heart will change becoming more open, tolerant and free.
Jesus asks the disciples, and therefore us, to have his way of thinking that does not reject anyone and his same gaze that recognizes even the smallest signs of faith, such as the gift of a simple glass of water that, if given to a “little one”, will “affect” the final judgment when the Son of man will judge all peoples of the earth.
This total opening, with no barrier of space and time, is shown precisely by Jesus with his incarnation and death on the cross for all humanity. It is possible for every man and woman on earth to have a mysterious and profound relationship with Jesus Christ. The Christian community is called upon to expand its boundaries to consider all as its children, even those who don’t have a full knowledge- experience of Jesus.
If “smallness” is the profound appearance of the life of the believer, even a hand, a foot and an eye can hurt it and impede – in the sense of making scandal or a glitch – the presence of the Lord in us. A glass of water is a small thing and the little ones know how to appreciate it, not failing to give thanks for it, especially when it is received in the name of Jesus.
2) The name of Jesus.
The name “Jesus” occurs three times in just four verses of today’s Gospel. The fact is that those who work in His name can do great things, starting with the apostles who belong to Jesus Christ. But who belongs to Christ? The disciples who follow him, but not in an exclusive sense. When the Christians have believed to have the monopoly of Jesus, they ran the risk of being intolerant. Good, in all its forms, is the right and the duty of every man. Jesus and the Spirit are everywhere where good is done. On the previous page, the disciples were divided between them in the name of their “I”. Here they are divided from the others in the name of their “we”. Only the “Name” of Jesus is the root of unity among all. Scandal is all that prevents someone from following God to attain salvation. Rather than making even one person lose faith, it would be better to die.
That certainly does not mean to overshadow or even frustrate the efforts of the announcement and the call to convert to the Gospel, as some might think. Do not forget that witness and proclamation are an integral part of the authentic Christian faith, which cannot be silent on the immense joy of having met the Lord. If I do not hide the fact of being a convinced and practicing Christian, every gesture of friendship and help that I do is an announcement in the same way that every word and gesture of Jesus was, even before he declared “I am the Son of God.” From the New Testament emerges clearly the “duty” of the announcement “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15); ” If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it (1 Cor 9:16); ” Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear ” (1 Pt 3,15-16).
The first appeal of Jesus is for the “change of heart”. He asks His disciples not to put the other person in preconceived schemes, but to welcome him or her and to listen to him or to her. Listen to the symphony of the wail of a child, of a poor, of a sick person to bring them the tenderness of God. Listen to the words of the world and give it the Word, because everything about the human adventure concerns all of us “I am a man and nothing that is human is foreign to me “(Terence).
The response of Jesus, the man without barriers, (cfr Jesus answered: “Don’t stop him” – Mk 9:39) is among the ones that can be a turning point in history: all men and women are of us, as we are all of men and women. A person first of all. “When a person dies, do not wonder for whom the bell tolls: it always sounds a little for you” (John Donne). All are us. We are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus.
Jesus’s announce is even more courageous: it brings us from the simply “not only” to the “not feeling strangers”. He asks us to love our neighbor and to live life as sharing: it leads us to live the many lives and histories of the others as if they were our own. It gives us a hundred brothers and sisters, a hundred hearts to rest on, a hundred lips to be quenched from thirst, a hundred mouths that do not know to Whom to yell and of which we are the voice.
It’s true, as I said just above, that today’s Gospel ends with harsh words “If your hand, your foot, your eye scandalize, cut it, throw it away.” It is the Gospel of wounds, scandalous and bright as the stigmata of Jesus. In fact, the words of Christ are not an invitation to an unnecessary mutilation, they are a figurative and incisive language to convey the seriousness with which we should think about the essential things. Even to lose what is precious, as a hand or an eye, is not comparable to the damage that comes from a wrong life. The Lord invites us to fear more a failed life than the painful wounds of life.
A special way to welcome Christ and the wounds of His love is that of the consecrated Virgins in the world. Being a virgin means keeping the spousal character of their bodies intact for the Lord. A virgin does not waste herself, and does not seek life in other human beings, in flesh and blood. A lot of maturity and also a lot of faith are needed to cut sick affections towards people and to wait with fidelity and perseverance for the Lord who comes. One must have a concrete experience of being with the Lord; just a theoretical knowledge is not enough. If one has a weak faith, he or she stops praying, experiences loneliness, doesn’t want to take on the responsibilities of an adult life and is in serious danger. He or she can maintain a physical virginity, but losing its meaning, he or she will become selfish or narcissistic, cynical or bitter, acid or an emotional vampire. Saint Augustine says that a virginity without humility doesn’t do any good.
Consecrated virginity is not a means of preservation of themselves or to bury one’s talent in the ground to return it intact one day. It is indeed a means of giving of oneself, accepting certain sacrifices just to give everything to God and more to the neighbor in a missionary spirit of annunciation (cfr Rite of the Consecration of Virgins, annexe 1, Mass, Eucharistic Prayer III: “Accept, Lord to confirm the engagement of our sister to follow Christ constantly, so that they can give the witness of evangelical life and fraternal love)
on Mk 9, 38-42
Bede: John, loving the Lord with eminent devotion, thought that He who performed an office to which He had no right was to be excluded from the benefit of it. Wherefore it is said, “And John answered Him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.”
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: For many believers received gifts, and yet were not with Christ, such was this man who cast out devils; for there were many of them deficient in some way; some were pure in life, but were not so perfect in faith; others again, contrariwise.
Theophylact: Or again, some unbelievers, seeing that the name of Jesus was full of virtue, themselves used it, and performed signs, though they were unworthy of Divine grace; for the Lord wished to extend His name even by the unworthy.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: It was not from jealousy or envy, however, that John wished to forbid him who cast out devils, but because he wished that all who called on the name of the Lord should follow Christ and be one body with His disciples. But the Lord, however unworthy they who perform the miracles may be, incites others by their means to believe on Him, and induces themselves by this unspeakable grace to become better.
Wherefore there follows: “But Jesus said, Forbid him not.”
Bede: By which He shews that no one is to be driven away from that partial goodness which he possesses already, but rather to be stirred up to that which he has not as yet obtained.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: In conformity to this, He shews that he is not to be forbidden, adding immediately after, “For there is no man which shall do a miracle in My name, that can lightly speak evil of Me.” He says “lightly” to meet the case of those who fell into heresy, such as were Simon and Menander, and Cerinthus (ed. note: Irenaeus, cont. Haer. 2, 31, seems to imply that the early heretics actually worked wonders, but that these differed from Christian miracles in that they were done by magic through the aid of the devil, and were not works of mercy; he contrasts with these the ecclesiastical miracles of his day.); not that they did miracles in the name of Christ, but by their deceptions had the appearance of doing them.
But these others, though they do (p. 184) not follow us, cannot however set themselves to say any thing against us, because they honour My name by working miracles.
Theophylact: For how can he speak evil of Me, who draws glory from My name, and works miracles by the invocation of this very name. There follows, “For he that is not against you is on your part.”
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 4, 5: We must take care that this saying of the Lord appear not to be contrary to that where He says, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” (Lc 11,23) Or will any one say that the difference lies in that here He says to His disciples, “For he that is not against you is on your part,” but in the other He speaks of Himself, “He who is not with Me is against Me?” As if indeed it were possible (ed. note: St. Augustine has here quasi vero, instead of quasi non, which hardly makes sense; the latter reading has also been found in an old edition of the Catena Aurea, A.D. 1417.) that he who is joined to Christ’s disciples, who are as His members, should not be with Him.
How if it were so, could it be true that “he that receiveth you receiveth Me?” (Mt 10,40) Or how is he not against Him who is against His disciples? Where then will be that saying, “He who despiseth you, despiseth Me? (Lc 10,16) But surely what is implied is that a man is not with Him in as far as he is against Him, and is not against Him in as far as he is with Him.
For instance, he who worked miracles in the name of Christ, and yet did not join himself to the body of His disciples, in as far as he worked the miracles in His name, was with them, and was not against them; again, in that he did not join their society, he was not with them, and was against them.
Be because they forbade his doing that in which he was with them, the Lord said unto them, “Forbid him not:” for they ought to have forbidden his being without their society, and thus to have persuaded him of the unity of the Church, but they should not have forbidden that in which he was with them, that is, his commendation of the name of their Lord and Master by the expulsion of devils.
Thus the Church Catholic does not disapprove in heretics the sacraments, which are common, but she blames their division, or some opinion of theirs adverse to peace and to truth; for in this they are against us.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else, this is said of those who believe on Him, but nevertheless do not follow Him from the looseness of their lives. Again, it is said of devils, who try to separate all from God, and to disperse His (p. 185) congregation.
There follows, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of cold water to drink in My name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.”
Theophylact: Not only will I not forbid him who works miracles in My name, but also whosoever shall give you the smallest thing for My name’s sake, and shall receive you, not on account of human and worldly favour, but from love to Me, shall not lose his reward.
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 4, 6: By which He shews, that he of whom John had spoken was not so far separated from the fellowship of the disciples, as to reject it, as a heretic, but as men are wont to hang back from receiving the Sacraments of Christ, and yet favour the Christian name, so as even to succour Christians, and do them service only because they are Christians. Of these He says they shall not lose their reward; not that they ought already to think themselves secure on account of this good will which they have towards Christians, without being washed with His baptism, and incorporated in His unity, but that they are already so guided by the mercy of God, as also to attain to these, and thus to go away from this life in security.