26th Sunday: For Hungry Adults.
‘Not one of us!’ and Millstones!
Not easy readings, this weekend. St. James doesn’t put a tooth in it when he addresses the rich who are cheating people, not paying proper wages, holding back moneys due, and generally ignoring the plight of the poor around them. ‘Start weeping’, he says to them. (This is James Chapter 5, verses 1-5. I could read it over my cappuchino!)
In the passage from St. Mark (- and this is the Year of Mark, for most Sundays-) we are given a number of difficult sayings, stringed together,- like ‘not one of us!’, a cup of water in my name, and a millstone around the neck.
‘Not one of us!’ ‘Because he was not one of us, we tried to stop him‘ driving out devils in your name, Lord. Isn’t it galling when the ‘foreigner’ gets the praise over against us: for example,- the Good Samaritan, he was ‘not one of us’, in fact was a despised Samaritan, considered far from God, and definitely not a follower of us and our way: when the ten lepers were healed of their leprosy, who comes back to say thanks but, -again!- a Samaritan. Who was the woman who got such praise from Jesus for her great faith, the likes of which he had not seen in Israel, but the woman we call the Syro-Phoenician woman,- a ‘foreigner’ again. Or the Roman Centurion who begged Jesus to heal his servant, yet sent the message ‘I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof’, and Jesus praised his great faith also: and of course, this Roman was a ‘foreigner’. Obviously, goodness, holiness, kindness, faith can be found in people of every race and creed: the Holy Spirit is not confined by any boundaries. The Holy Spirit does not recognise ‘because he was not one of us, we tried to stop him’. The Spirit breathes where the Spirit wills.
The kindness of a cup of water given to another is praised,- even the smallest kindness to another is done to Christ.
But what about the millstone tied around somebody’s neck, and the person thrown into the sea? That’s one of the hardest sayings of Jesus. In the Jewish and Semitic way of speaking, when you want to make a point, you make it very black and white. Jesus wants to emphasise in the strongest possible terms the awefulness of scandalizing ‘one of these little ones’,- little in age or little in their faith-life, new believers. ‘To bring down one of these little ones who have faith’ is most serious. And Jesus adds the image ‘better thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck’. He’s really saying to us ‘Can I put this message any stronger than that?’ In other words, he wants us to truly sit up and hear it.
The other images or sayings about cutting off your hand, or taking out your eye or cutting off your foot,- that’s in the same genre of ‘black and white’, not meant to be taken literally, but meant to be taken seriously: if something is a serious block to my faith-life, then I must take it seriously and deal with it, otherwise I am causing myself to stumble and to lose faith,- I am a ‘scandal’ or stumbling block to what God wants to do in my life, to give me Life.
Seamus Devitt C.Ss.R.
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )