During the ministry of Jesus, there were many occasions where the crowds would ask for signs (miracles) from Jesus to prove the He is the Promised Messiah, and not surprisingly, Jesus would always refuse. Quite abruptly Jesus would say to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “It is an evil and unfaithful generation asking for a sign, and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” (Matthew 16: 4). Even to the devil when He was tempted in the desert, Jesus refused to prove with signs.
However, in the Gospel today, we have John coming to Jesus and saying that they had seen someone performing miracles (signs) in Jesus’ name, but Jesus said, “You must not stop him… Anyone who is not against us is for us.” Perhaps not the response John expected. What John and the others did not acknowledge was the faith of that person. He must have had great faith in Jesus to be able to cast out devils. On the contrary, they came to complain to Jesus hoping that He would either reprimand the man or put a stop to him performing miracles, since he was not one of the twelve.
Our Gospel this Sunday somewhat continues the theme of acceptance and inclusion that we heard last Sunday. Jesus once again is going to use this opportunity to help the disciples think differently. Since the kingdom of God is open to all, Jesus will point out to them that it is important the kingdom of God be extended to all and it is not important who does it. In other words, all of us are called to be an extension of that kingdom that Jesus came to establish and not be obstacles to it.
What follows this conversation between Jesus and His disciples is about not being stumbling blocks or obstacles to anyone who is seeking God and His kingdom. The example that Jesus uses is quite extreme and even violent… throwing oneself into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck and also cutting off body parts that causes us to sin. Surely Jesus did not mean these literally but the extreme examples only indicate the seriousness of the point that Jesus was making to His disciples.
Though each of us profess in the Nicene Creed that our Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, it might be interesting to find out what each of us thinks about these “marks of the Church” and how they apply to daily life. We know that the Church calls us to be inclusive but yet our lives are often coloured with rejection of differences, rigidity or prejudice and sometimes to a point of a refusal to see any good in the other. Just like John was not able to see the faith of the man who was casting out devils in Jesus’ name, we too can fall in that same trap to the extent where we become an obstacle to people who come in search of God’s love and mercy.
Based on our relationship with God, each of us have an image of God and because of that, we may have also created an image of the Church that we want it to be. At times this may be helpful but there are times when we may have created an image that could be an obstacle to a true relationship with Christ and His mercy for others. We may exclude people who do not conform to the image of God and His Church that we have created for ourselves – thus, making ourselves the obstacles.
By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to be evangelisers of the Gospel. There is no denying that this is our primary call as disciples of Jesus. However, in our zealousness to bring Christ to others, we may easily fail to see the struggles of human frailty, including sin. Rituals, rules, and regulations in the Church are meant to help us encounter God but there are times we can impose them in a way that God becomes inaccessible to the sinner and the wounded. The Church founded on Jesus Christ has never been an obstacle but at times we can become the obstacle. Our differences, rigidity and prejudice can be that obstacle when we succumb to the temptation of creating closed groups only with those whom we consider worthy of Jesus Christ and His Church. Sadly, we sometimes think we are “the privileged”.
Our Gospel today calls us once again to a spirit of acceptance, inclusion, compassion and tenderness and not condemnation. The question that we need to ask ourselves is, ‘Do I obstruct others from the encounter with Jesus through His Church or do I facilitate it’? As the People of God and as Church, let us pray for the grace to be facilitators of the good news and not obstacles to the love and mercy of God.
Christians are not licensed “inspectors of other people’s lives,” but rather disciples who reach out to others, assuring them of God’s love and welcoming them into the community. (Pope Francis)
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (26 Sept 2021)