Sunday reflection: Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48:

At that time, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. 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. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands 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.’”

Thanks to an unexpected need to travel this week, the first I’d heard of this passage was at Mass last night, which I attended not long after stepping off the plane. Our parish has an awesome young priest whose homily I’d almost substitute for a reflection here. Instead, I’ll leave this as more of an open thread than usual for readers to offer their own thoughts on these passages, but I do have a few thoughts about the readings today.

First, the parallel between this Gospel passage and our first reading from Numbers 11:25-29 is unmistakable:

The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.

Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp. So, when a young man quickly told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’ aide, said, “Moses, my lord, stop them.” But Moses answered him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

In both cases, the Lord passes the Holy Spirit to whom He chooses, not necessarily to those we choose. On one level, this is a lesson akin to Judge not lest ye be judged. We do not know the reason why the Holy Spirit may rest with one in a certain prophetical way and not another, nor should we assume the role of the Lord in judging it. Separately in Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus would instruct the disciples that “you will know [false prophets] by their fruits,” but not simply because they did not fit into the human paradigm of acceptance.

In baptism and confirmation, though, the divisions are no longer necessary. We all share in the kingdom of Christ and are priests and prophets of a kind. We have consecrated priests who perform specific tasks that require a certain kind of grace and commitment, but we all share in that ministry, and all share in the ministry of the prophets. This series of reflections is a demonstration of that — sharing the Gospel, offering lay exegesis to a certain extent, and so on. Those involved in faith formation, evangelization, and other ministries are more examples of this special status within the body of Christ.

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!” As our celebrant noted last night, this happened at Pentecost, and continues to this day through those who have received the Holy Spirit. The body of Christ is a nation of prophets, who are called to give testimony to the Lord in any number of ways. Some do so through St. Francis of Assisi’s famous instruction: “Preach the Gospel at all times — and when necessary, use words.” We make our lives a kind of prophesying about the goodness of the Lord and His precepts.

Sin, of course, not just damages us but the entire body when it sets a public example for those who still need to come to the Lord. It turns us into the “false prophets” of which Jesus warned in the passage from Matthew. It leads others astray, including the little children about whom Jesus warned in today’s Gospel. Better for us to go maimed to Christ than whole in surrender to sin, not just for our own sakes but for those who have yet to be saved as well. Obviously Jesus did not mean for disciples to start amputating themselves, but instead wanted to emphasize the danger of surrendering to sin and the stakes involved.

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!” All we need do is open our hearts to Christ to fulfill Moses’ prayer, no matter where we are or in what station of life we find ourselves. That is the fulfillment of salvation.