Greetings, SBT Readers!
"Something is rotten in the State of Denmark..." so sayeth Marcellus to Horatio in Act 1 sc. iv of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
And something is definitely "rotten" in a world in which
U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback chase down fleeing Haitians, using their reins as whips.
Or in which refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq find themselves trapped between Poland and Belarus as dictator Alexander Lukashenko funnels migrants to the borders of countries bordering Belarus in retaliation for EU sanctions.
It seems there is no safe haven for those fleeing violence, climate change and economic hardship. While Lukashenko is flying migrants into Europe to destabilize the EU, the U.S. is flying migrants back to their countries of origin, regardless of the fate awaiting them there.
Yes, something is indeed rotten in the world today. If countries are unwilling to welcome the world's poor and displaced peoples, then there needs to be an alternative response from the global community: perhaps addressing why the migrants are fleeing in the first place and doing something about it!
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. No one who performs a mighty deed in my name can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Those who give you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will surely not lose their reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for them if a great millstone were put around their necks and they were thrown into the sea."
Today's Gospel covers several themes:
- That anyone who performs a "mighty deed" in Jesus' Name is aligned with him;
- That those who extend care to Jesus' followers because they belong to him will be rewarded;
That anyone who causes the "little ones" (the anawim who follow Jesus) to sin deserves the worst of deaths;
- That anything that causes us to sin needs to be jettisoned (that is, more gruesomely, lopped off or plucked out).
The text leaves our heads spinning. Jesus' words flow in rapid succession, without transitions, from one idea to the next. Our first reading about Eldad and Medad helps us understand the first theme: God's "camp" is larger than anything we can imagine and the Spirit of God descends upon whomever God pleases, whether they are inside the meeting tent or outside, or whether they are part of Jesus' inner circle or not. This point is pretty straightforward: too often, we establish rules of belonging, only to discover that God doesn't follow our rules. God, in fact, refuses to be limited by human assumptions and expectations and insists on being bigger than we are -- more compassionate, more inclusive, more forgiving, more understanding, and definitely more generous.
So far so good. Point Two, however, seems to spin off the corporal works of mercy ("Whatever you did for the least ones, you did for me" (Matt 25:31-46). Perhaps the Evangelist strung together sayings attributed to Jesus but forgot the connecting links; or perhaps Jesus' utterances were stream of consciousness rather than organized prose. At any rate, there is a leap between Point One and Point Two, unless Jesus intended both points to focus on who belonged to him -- non-disciples exorcizing demons in his Name and those who ministered to his disciples for his sake. He clearly approved of both categories of people.
Then comes the image of the millstone-- that large flat stone used for grinding grain. Again, there is no connection between Point Two and Point Three. We move from those who are blessed for their actions to those who are accursed for leading "the little ones" to sin. "What kind of sin?" we might ask. The sin of doubt? Immoral actions? Jesus' imagery is strong, violent. The corrupters of the innocent should be weighted down so heavily that there can be no chance of their surfacing from the ocean depths. Not only would their names be obliterated from the Book of Life but all traces of their existence would be lost as well. They would simply cease to exist!
Point Four then jumps to the avoidance of sin, with Jesus heaping hyperbole upon hyperbole as he weighed in how to deal with offending body parts: if it leads you to sin, hack it off or 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" (Mk 9:47-48). Of course, he was speaking metaphorically but his language is shocking enough to startle anyone out of complacency.
So what is our "take-away" from this text? The connecting "glue" between the Four Points could be that if we truly belong to Jesus, we will walk justly and avoid sin. Jesus' rhetorical mode is that of a "fire and brimstone" prophet, railing against the hard-heartedness of the people. Where do his words hit home? How can we look beyond his gruesome metaphors to examine our own attitudes, words and actions? What will it take to wake us up?