Fr. Ver Bust's Column:|
"Explaining the Gospel"
|Fr. Richard Ver Bust
Acceptance, hospitality and scandal
Members of the church must be tolerant and prevent exclusiveness
October 1, Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Richard Ver Bust
In today's gospel, Mark focuses on themes of acceptance, hospitality, and scandal.
John, Jesus' disciple, seems to have been upset by the fact that someone was healing persons
who were possessed by demons. In our first reading, Joshua was upset when someone out of the
line of authority seemed to have a power that could only come from God. So both Joshua and
John found it hard to accept that someone other than the chosen disciples could do this.
The person whom John is referring to must have had some faith in Jesus in that the person
invoked the name of Jesus. And the fact is that the person successfully accomplished what faith
suggested. So this upset John and probably the other disciples as well. Mark probably was
thinking of his own church and people might be intolerant of those who don't seem to fit the
pattern of faith. This means that the members of the church have to be careful that they be
tolerant and avoid any semblance of exclusiveness. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, shows
that there was this danger and people had developed cliquishness.
Jesus takes up this idea and points out that this person is not someone they should fear will
undermine the kingdom. In fact, the person is already doing something to advance the kingdom.
Jesus was not jealous of anyone who, in some way, was doing what might further the work of
God. It would not undermine but enhance what he was doing. The hope also was that the person
would come to greater faith.
Mark joins to this incident, a saying of Jesus in which works done in Jesus' name were praiseworthy. They, in fact, would be rewarded even if the act was as simple as giving a cup of water. Now to us that would seem to be nothing. Yet we might have to rethink this. Water in that ancient world especially in the Near East was scarce. It also was a symbol of life. So Christ is praising the act and emphasizing that it deserves a reward.
The warning of Jesus against giving scandal points to an opposite act. One must avoid causing the little ones to sin. We probably automatically think that the "little ones" refer to children. But it also may refer to members of society who are not considered important. It also, in Mark's mind, may refer to those in the church who are not in roles of leadership. So those who do have
important roles should be very careful of the example they give.
The final verses of today's gospel are part of a Semitic or Near Eastern way of stressing something even if it sounds over exaggerated. It stresses the importance of the teaching and acting. One should take drastic steps in avoiding sin. One should avoid doing those things which
would lead to a loss of a role in the Kingdom of God.
The word or term Gehenna needs some explanation. In the Second Book of Kings 23:10 it seems to be a place near Jerusalem where child sacrifice had taken place in honor of the god, Moloch. In Jesus' time it referred to a valley near Jerusalem. It was a place, in Isaiah, 66:24, where constant fires burned the garbage and where the enemies of God would be punished.
The place became, after a time, a symbol of the punishing fires of the afterlife. Today we recognize that hell is not a real place and fire is not real but that the punishment of not being with God is real.
(Fr. Ver Bust is professor emeritus in religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere.)