Browsing Homilies

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Nm 11:25-29 | Ps 19 | Jas 5:1-6 | Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Those who love “The Office,” will remember an episode “The Inner Circle,” (season 7, episode 23, original air date: 5 May 2011, ten years ago). Tensions rise and feelings are hurt when Will Ferrell’s ridiculous character, Deangelo, creates an “inner circle” at the office—which is only composed of men.

Who is “in?” Who is “out?” Two of the most debated questions in Christian history take center stage in today’s gospel. Once again, the disciples place their power on a pedestal. They believe membership in Jesus’ inner circle affords them the right to determine who can do good works in the Lord’s name. John deems a man unfit to drive out demons “because he does not follow us.”

This same type of judgment plays out in the Church today: “Teacher, we saw someone volunteering at Sunday school in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he’s gay.” “Teacher, we saw someone administering a parish in your name, and we tried to prevent her because she’s not an ordained priest.” If redirected, the energy Christians spend excluding one another could feed and house thousands!

Jesus prioritizes the good deeds done by his expansive group of followers. He welcomes those who take action in his name without stopping to ask for their credentials. One could imagine Jesus echoing the words of Moses in today’s first reading: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The work of discipleship is not to draw hard-and-fast boxes around who’s “in” and who’s “out” based on preconceived notions. Discipleship is more dynamic that that. It operates from an ever-widening circle. Christian discipleship forms followers to see people in need of healing and to respond, period. All who take up this call—this cross—are “in.” And let’s be clear: being “in” is no easy task.

Christian discipleship demands one’s very life. All are welcome, yes…but not on your own terms. Expectations are as high as the circle is wide for those who live in Christ’s light. Along with prioritizing good deeds, Jesus denounces harmful deeds without mincing any words. “Cut it off,” “pluck it out,” he demands of body parts used to sin. To our young candidates preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation, a modern adaptation of Jesus’ warning from today’s gospel might go like this: “If your iPhone causes you to sin, smash it with a hammer and throw it away. If your laptop causes you to sin, get ride of it.”

This is the seriousness with which we should seek purity of heart. Our Lord asserts drowning is the better option for those who cause little ones to sin. Jesus does not take sin lightly—and neither should we. Sin persists in us since the Fall. We lie and pass judgment. We lust and hoard wealth. We neglect neighbors in need, harm the earth, and do a whole host of other actions that break relationship with God and other living beings. And we all do it again and again and again.

Our God is certainly a gracious God who abounds in mercy. This doesn’t mean our lives are a free-for-all, or that God gives sins a free pass. Nor does it mean God approves of sin being commonplace. Is Jesus really advocating for self-harm and death by drowning? The answer should be obvious—but Jesus does intend for people to take his comments seriously.

To be “in” is to strive to live more Christ-like each day. To be “in” is to admit fault, seek forgiveness, and be better next time. To be “in” means knowing when to say “no,” and when to say “yes.” It means being an ally, and speaking out, appropriately, all in the name of Jesus Christ.

Name it right now: where did you fall short this past week? When were you impatient? When did you act out of anger? Were you short with someone or rude? Were you feeling alone, depressed, misunderstood? What harmful behavior did you maybe turn to cope: food, drink, pornography? Name it, seek forgiveness, know that you are loved and forgiven, and stop having the same response every time “life happens.”

Discipleship, which our baptism demands, is the work of lifetime. It is work that will never be done perfectly until the kingdom finally comes—but it can always be done more lovingly by you and me. May we all recommit to sinning less and loving more in the week ahead.


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