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YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: INCLUSIVE, NOT EXCLUSIVE!
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
A couple drove down a country road for several miles, not saying a word to each other. The previous night they had a big argument, and that led to an exchange of bitter words and hurt feelings. They passed by a farm where a large group of pigs was feeding. The man turned to his wife and, in a malicious and sarcastic tone, asked her, “Are they relatives of yours?” “Yes, you’re right,” the wife replied. “They are my in- laws!”
Man is a social being. We all have the natural human need to belong – a family, community, friends, and various associations. The disciples were, indeed, happy to be part of the group of Jesus. That must have made them feel important and special. But at the same time, that also led them to feel exclusive – and proud. In last Sunday’s Gospel, they were, in fact, arguing about who was the greatest among them. And in the Gospel today, they learned about some people outside the group who were casting out demons in the name of Jesus. They tried to stop them. They sincerely believed that the gift of exorcising demons was exclusive to them. This is similar with the case in the first reading. Joshua tried to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying because they were not present in the camp when the Spirit of God through Moses descended upon the group of elders. But Moses knew better. He told them: “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the people of the Lord were prophets! If only the Lord would bestow his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29).
It is such a wonderful thing to be part of the group of Jesus, to be the insiders. But this does not mean that we exclude others from joining us, that we treat others as outsiders. That is not what God wants. And we cannot limit God’s actions, nor can we stop Him from imparting His gifts and blessings to others who do not belong to our group. Nobody has the monopoly of God’s gifts and favors. Rather than excluding others, we should look at ourselves and learn to appreciate the great privilege of being part of the group of Jesus, members of his Mystical Body.
What does it really mean to be considered “insiders”? The Gospel this Sunday outlines several important points.
First, to be a genuine insider, there should be an attitude of openness. Jesus said: “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” (9:39-40). This simply means there are many people outside who are also being used by God as His instruments. We may not know who they are, but God knows them, and He rewards them for sure: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will not lose his reward” (9:41). We should be open to accept others as our co-workers in the Lord’s vineyard. That is what it means by the word “catholic” – universal. When we are tempted to exclude others, just think of what St. Augustine said: “There are many sheep without, many wolves within.”
Second, a true member of Christ must always maintain the attitude of a child. The many painful divisions and misunderstandings among us are usually caused by pride, ambition and jealousy. St. James pointed that out in last Sunday’s lesson: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (James 3:16). In his commentary, Fr. Pierse, a Redemptorist, wrote: “The child has no academic degrees, wealth, achievements – which we seek to make us ‘somebody’ great, but which, in fact, make us rivals, competing and jealous of one another. We are constantly seeking things that divide us. But if we can accept the poverty, loneliness and insecurity within each of us, we will find ample ground for unity.”
In the Gospel today, Jesus refers to his followers as “these little ones who believe in me” (9:42). When we become his childlike followers, we enjoy his complete protection, and he even promised to punish severely anybody who leads us to sin and spiritual ruin.
Finally, the genuine member of the Church knows perfectly well the infinite value of the heavenly treasures and is, therefore, all too ready to sacrifice everything in order to please God and win heaven. That is the meaning of the teaching in the Gospel about cutting one’s limbs and gouging out an eye, which is to be interpreted figuratively.
A story is told about a group of adventurers who set out to conquer a new territory, which is the present-day Ireland. The leader announced that whoever touched land first would possess the entire territory. One member, a man named O’Neil, was very determined to have the new land. He rowed mightily, but he soon fell behind the boat of an equally ambitious member. O’Neil had to make a quick and decisive move. He dropped his oars, took his axe, and cut his left hand. Then, with his right hand, he threw it upon the shore, so that he would be the first to touch the land. Thus, he possessed the new territory. This story may sound gory and horrible, but that is precisely what Jesus did. He just did not cut off his hand; he sacrificed his whole body on the cross so that he will gain for us, not only a piece of land, but the eternal kingdom of heaven. We are following a crucified Lord, and we, in turn, should not be afraid to make sacrifices for the sake of God’s kingdom.
We come together once again as members of the family of God. Let us not just look at one another, contented that we belong to God’s chosen family. Rather, let us look beyond ourselves, and begin to realize that we have our mission to bring people in. Let us not just enjoy the unity among ourselves, but should also strive to expand this unity towards others outside. After all, this is the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you” (Jn 17:20-21).
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs, Susano Road Camarin, Caloocan City 1422