All belong to Christ. MARK 9:38–43, 45, 47–48
By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus calls into question our biases and notions of belonging.
The drama unfolds as John tells Jesus, “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us, we tried to stop him” (Mk 9:38). John must “cut-off” his own prejudicial ideas of belonging, to catch Jesus’ deeper, wider vision.
The “one-of-us” mindset can bring about a great deal of good, but it also can generate thinking and acting in ways that has potential to inflict all kinds of evil. “One-of-us” thinking can provoke racial, ethnic, religious, political, national, and social prejudices and is the root-cause of most divisiveness and lack of peace in the world.
Jesus goes about healing Jews and non-Jews alike. “The wind blows where it wills” (John 3:8). His disciples, as may be the case today, are perhaps not as free from prejudice and xenophobia as their Master.
Jesus widens and deepens the minds of His disciples then and now. Those who work miracles, as He says, “in My name” are for Him. Note, Jesus did not say “in our name”; a reminder that with all action, there is only one goal; to bring glory to God.
Any other form of superficial group or self-identity must be “cut-off”. Neither group nor self, enter the equation. The Lord is God of all.
The Christian is challenged by Jesus’ focus regarding identity as solely “belonging to Christ”. This is a mystery of the self that needs to be discovered.
What does it mean to “belong to Christ”? One may spend one’s lifetime pondering this question. Jesus makes it clear that persons showing the simplest acts of charity, like giving water to those who belong to Christ, will be rewarded.
No creed nor race is mentioned. All belong to Christ, especially the vulnerable, marginalised, and underprivileged who need our care.
The “little ones who have faith” (Mark 9:42), persons regardless of age, who are coming to, and growing in belonging to Christ, are in a state of spiritual vulnerability. He warns that anyone who is an obstacle to their spiritual growth and well-being will suffer severe consequences.
Jesus uses harsh, figurative language to shock the hearer into realising the severity needed to deal with the root causes of sin. “If your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off” (Mk 9:43). Repeated use of “if” in the three examples, indicates that a lack of awareness of the ways in which we fail to love God and others, is at the root of all sin. Frequent examination of conscience and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are necessary.
Notably, both men and women spend an inordinate amount of time, talent, and treasure on beauty regimens. This empire is a multi-billion-dollar global industry. In such cases, care of the body is prized above care of the soul.
Cutting off a body part also addresses group affiliation. The “body” may be the organisation or institution one belongs to; parts of which may not be kosher. It is critical to not just be aware of personal sin, but even more endemic in our time is corporate sinfulness. The multi-million-dollar corporation or the corner store one works at, may be an unhealthy body from which one must detach.
This is not an easy reality for the Christian in these difficult times. By screening all “body parts” regularly, one may indeed lose a limb, but more importantly, preserve one’s life in Christ.
A deeper cutting off is a genuine, inner circumcision of the heart where greed, envy, hatred, and all kinds of prejudice reside. This is true conversion. This begins the journey of belonging to Christ.
Jesus did not often use graphic figurative language to get His message across. He may have upset some sensitivities, but the more important detail, not to be downplayed or overlooked is the severity of Jesus’ “wake-up call”, herein amplified. Perhaps, more “wake-up” calls such as those used by Jesus are eminently needed today.
Help us Lord to avoid developing and maintaining attitudes of complacency. Bring us to true repentance in Christ. Amen.
The meditations for September were by Jacqui-Theresa Leiba who is actively involved at St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown. She facilitates contemplative prayer and retreats at the parish and at the Foundation for Human Development in Cascade.