Are We Prejudiced and Exclusive?

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Gospel of Mark 9:38-43.47-48

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 30 September 2018

As we reflect on the Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, we get the impression that the matters seem disconnected: first, we have Jesus’ disciples reporting to Jesus that they prevented people from casting out devils in His Name because they did not belong to their group.  Then, Jesus explains that if we are an obstacle to a child’s faith, it is better that we drown ourselves in the sea with a great millstone round our neck.  Finally, Jesus asserted that it is better to cut off our hand and foot and tear out our eye if they should cause us to sin and throw us into hell.

In all of these, scripture scholars tell us that there are two basic sections here: The first is about relating to the good outside the community and the second is a warning against the severe consequences of the evil within our community.

Let us begin with reflecting on what Jesus said about relating to the good people outside our community.  Here Jesus was emphasising that insofar as a person’s intention is to do good, regardless of whether they belong to our community or not, we should never prevent a person from doing the good.

The famous American cartoonist Thomas Nast was once at a party with some friends.  Somebody suggested that he draw caricatures of everyone at the party.

Using swift, bold strokes of his pencil, Nast made quick sketches of each person.  He passed the sketches around for everyone to look at.  There were lots of laughing and joking.  Then something unexpected happened.  It seems that everyone recognised everyone else, but few recognised themselves.

When it comes to self-recognition, we seem to have a blind spot.  We don’t see ourselves as clearly as others see us.  We just don’t recognise our main characteristics as they really are; especially when the broad strokes are meant to highlight certain key features of our faces, and we are meant to be able to laugh at ourselves.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in this true story, like the disciples, who prevented good people who wanted to cast our devils, in Jesus’ Name, you and I too, if we are not careful enough can quite easily fall into the blindness of our refusal to see our faults and failures of rejecting people who also want to serve in Jesus’ Name.  And, so in reply to His disciples, Jesus responds, “You must not stop them; no one who works a miracle in My Name is likely to speak evil of Me.  Anyone who is not against us is for us.”

There is a story of a priest, Fr John who at the end of the day was feeling somewhat exhausted and was about to take his dinner.  The doorbell rang, and he reluctantly pulled himself off his seat and went to the door.  It was the same man, Jim who had just asked him for $20 in the afternoon; now looking even dirtier and smellier.  Jack asked, “Father, can I come in?”  Yes, the priest said reluctantly.  Jim began to tell his story that he has no place to stay.  Fr John could see it coming, “yes, he was asking for more money.”

Deep within, Fr John was hoping that the housekeeper would interrupt the conversation and tell him that dinner was ready.  Jim continued his sad story . . . which to him sounded like a pack of lies . . . To his relief, the housekeeping knocked on the door and said, that there was a phone call for him.  Fr John excused himself and went to answer the phone call.

When Fr John returned, Jim had left.  Fr John suddenly sensed that Jim had left because he was not truly listening to Jim, and according him the due respect, and pre-judging him before he could finish his story.  Feeling somewhat uneasy and remorseful with what had happened, Fr John went out to look for Jim in the Church’s compound; but he could not find him.  So, he got into his car and drove around the neighbourhood to look for Jim.

Finally, he spotted Jim and pulled his car up to the curb and called out to Jim.  Jim did not answer and kept walking.  So, Fr John parked his car and ran after Jim.  When he finally caught up with Jim, Fr John said, “Jim, I am sorry that I had to attend to the phone call, can you tell me more of your story?  Jim was silent for a moment and then said, “Father, you are just like everybody else.  No one wants to listen.  We are unimportant and are the nobodies of this world.”  Jim then walked away, and disappeared around the corner; into the darkness of the night . . . rejected and dejected.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, Fr John’s initial behaviour was not too differently from Jesus’ disciples who prevented strangers from casting out devils in Jesus’ Name, just because they did not belong to their community.  Fr John was likewise, prejudiced against Jim and did not give him the needed attention and respect and service just because he was a homeless person; dressed poorly and smelt.  Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging you and me to go beyond our prejudices in our lives and see the face of Jesus in every person because to God, every person is a precious son and daughter; and if we love God, we are then called to love every person too; more so when they are the nobodies of society.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel Jesus is reminding us of our need to be more inclusive in our service of His Kingdom, and transcend the prejudices of the people whom God wants us to serve as in the homeless beggar.  Moreover, every person, even though they belong “outside” our community or clique is called by God to serve in his or her capacity in His Kingdom.

As for the second section of today’s Gospel, Jesus is warning us against the severe consequences of the evil within our community.  Bob Greene, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, relates that one cold night after a game, the Chicago Bulls, superstar Michael Jordan was walking towards his car, when he suddenly noticed a young boy on a wheelchair some 20 feet away.  Michael walked over to the boy, knelt beside him, talked to him softly and compassionately while putting his arm around the boy’s frail shoulder.

The boy’s father tried to take a photo, but his camera did not work very well.  Jordan noticed what was happening.  So, he continued to talk to the boy.  When the father finally took the photo, Michael got up, wished the boy goodbye and left.

The father rushed over to his son and showed him the photo he took.  The boy was filled with tears of joy.  In spite of his suffering, the young boy would always draw comfort from that one night, when Michael Jordan cared enough to include him in his world.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, Michael Jordan reached out to the young boy on the wheelchair.  Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us that in each of our communities, there are the those who are strong in their faith, while others are weak in their faith, especially the “little ones and children; of whom we are never to scandalise by our examples.  For to do so, Jesus says very emphatically through His prophetic exaggeration, “It is better that we tie a heavy millstone around our neck and drown ourselves in the sea; and that if our hand, feet and eye should cause us to sin, it would be better that we cut them and tear them off; for Jesus says, it is better that we are able to enter the Kingdom of God, with fewer limbs than to be thrown into the fires of hell with all our limbs. 

In proclaiming this Truth of the Good News, Jesus is reminding you and me that, the supreme value of life is God’s Kingdom, and we are each called to act vigorously and immediately against our self-interests and temptations that draw people away from God’s Kingdom which one spiritual writer describes as:

The Kingdom of God is justice and joy;
For Jesus restores what sin would destroy.

power and glory in Jesus we know;
And here and hereafter the Kingdom shall grow.

The Kingdom of God is mercy and grace;
The captives are freed, the sinners find a place.
The outcasts are welcomed God’s banquet to share;
And hope is awakened in place of despair.

The Kingdom of God is a challenge and choice:
Believe the good news, repent and rejoice!
God’s Love for us sinners brought Christ to His Cross;
Our crisis of judgment for gain or for loss.

God’s Kingdom has come, the gift and the goal;
In Jesus begun, in heaven made whole.
The heirs of His Kingdom shall answer His call;
And all things cry “Glory!” to God all in all.

  • Adapted from: A Costly Freedom, A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel by Brendan Byrne, SJ.; Collegeville, Minnesota 2008 pub.: p. 153-156.
  • Adapted from: More Sower’s Seeds – Second Planting; Brian Cavanaugh,T.O.R.; Paulist Press: New York; Mawah1992; p.51
  • Happiness Manufacturers, Hedwig Lewis,S.J.; Gujarat Sahitya Prakash; Anand, India:2001; p.179.

Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.