The first reading for Friday’s (September 28) Mass was from the book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter Three. It’s a very familiar reading which begins: “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens.” The whole passage was very helpful to me, as I reflected on the readings for today. There are a lot of hard words in our readings, and they show different aspects of what it means to follow Jesus.
In our second reading James, sounding much like the prophet Amos in the Hebrew Scriptures, really lays it out for those who exploit their workers: “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries… Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”
In our first reading from Numbers, Joshua sees that, although Eldad and Medad were not in the gathering when God bestowed some of the spirit that was given to Moses on seventy others, the two had received the spirit and began to prophesy. Joshua goes to Moses and tells him that he must stop them, because they weren’t at the gathering. But Moses says: “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!”
A similar situation to this happens in our Gospel reading from Mark where John comes to Jesus and reports that someone was driving out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him because the person wasn’t one of them. Much like Moses, Jesus answers: “Do not prevent him. There is no one who can perform 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.”
But after this, Jesus Himself speaks some hard words: “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 … if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off … if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
As hard as these words are, they are helpful to me, as I struggle to respond to our divisive and contentious times. Following Ecclesiastes, there are times when we have to speak boldly and honestly to the injustices that are present in our world, as we heard from James. But at the same time, we don’t have to perceive all those who are “other” as enemies. For example, there are many who have negative feelings towards Muslims because many terrorists claim to be following Islam in the terrible things they do. In self-defense, and to alleviate much suffering, we work against terrorism as best we can, remembering not to forfeit human rights in the process. But working against Islamicist terrorist groups should not lead us to consider all Muslims as enemies. Why would we need to do that? Many, if not most, Muslims are “not against us.” I just recently attended an interfaith prayer service for peace at Madonna University, where there were people of various denominations and faiths, as well as humanists. Is it necessary to perceive enemies everywhere?
The challenge, I believe, is to discern when it is time to speak out forcefully and when is it time to work at reconciliation and bring people together. Actually, they can both happen at the same time. And here is where Jesus’ last words in our Gospel passage make sense to me. My prayer is that when fear keeps me from speaking the truth to power, that God will cut it out of my heart! And when all I can see are enemies, when I cannot see good will in others merely because they are different from myself, then I pray that God will cut out from my heart my prejudices and hatreds and fears!
We can be comfortable with our prejudices and fears, but they most overwhelmingly lead us to sin. We need to open ourselves for the surgery that is needed for us to heal and be prophets and healers for others.
Fr. Phil, CP