Last week we heard Jesus chastise his disciples for their arguing about who should be next in the line of succession. Today they take offense because they perceive a stranger as a direct threat to their exclusive calling. Their attitude is clear: “You have no right; He gave us that job.” Envy and jealousy raises its ugly head.
We are witnessing how Jesus deals with this ages-old human condition. We saw it first in the story of Cain and Abel. In our own lives we may have been victim or culprit of it with our siblings, classmates, spouses or friends. St. Benedict guards against inroads of it in describing the “Qualities of the Abbot” in the “Tools of Good Works” and the “Steps of Humility,” the distribution of labor and his directives about property and gifts. The psalmist applies the trait to God, and St. Paul says he experiences “a godly jealousy.” We sing of in it the hymnody: “Our God is a jealous God.” And, here in this Gospel we hear the disciples grousing (Benedict calls it “murmuring”) – “How come they are trying to use the gift you gave to us?”
So far the disciples have missed the point of Jesus teaching. It’s about true discipleship; how we relate to each other. Jesus warns us that true followers are not to “cause little ones to stumble.” He’s been saying all along that who will be included in the Kingdom is not within our authority, it’s not even within our concern! Jesus makes it quite clear – whoever is not against us, is for us.
In this instance, Jesus immediately turns the tables on the disciples. He warns them that they are the ones in danger of doing harm. It’s as though Jesus says, “The problem is not those folks, guys. Don’t worry about them; they are not the problem. Rather, look at yourselves. Are you a stumbling block?” His message is clear – finger-pointing will get us nowhere with Jesus. Jesus couldn’t be more clear with his vivid example of drowning to get his point across. “Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around your neck than to do harm to “these little ones.”
Jesus warns us that scrupulosity about others’ behavior, or a judgment about their motivation (especially without all the facts) can cause us to stumble. He is trying to help us understand that no one is an exception to His teaching. We can’t say: “That doesn’t apply to me; I don’t have to listen to what He is saying. And, anyway, I’ll be forgiven.” The old axiom holds true, “What’s sauce for the goose, is good for the gander.”
Our Creator knows we have been endowed with the capacity to make comparisons, weigh pros and cons, and draw conclusions that seem to just “pop into our heads.” Jesus is warning us to be on guard about being “judgmental” – milking and waxing self-assigned motivations to others. We can spread faulty conclusions built on our limited perceptions. Jesus cautions us to turn the focus back to our own behavior. Jesus challenges us to a self-examination. How authentic is our way of thinking and acting? Do we spend more time judging another’s behavior and spreading ill-will than we do in Lectio looking at our part in the cultivation of evil in the world? What are the stumbling-blocks, the mind-fields we scatter that unwittingly impedes the spread of the Good News? This gospel incident is a story of commitment. The people to whom Jesus is talking are his own disciples – people who have agreed and want to follow him. The metaphor explains just how serious sin really is. Jesus is asking, “Just who do you believe? Do you believe in me? Whose ways do you imitate?”
We were created so that God can pour out blessings upon us, and through us. In gratitude, we owe it to God, and to others, to pass on the good news of the great inheritance that is ours.
So how goes it with you? Does your practice of faith, your living of Benedict’s Rule challenge others? Ages ago Isaiah said, and St. Paul repeated, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” [Isaiah 55:8; Ephesians 3:20] Benedict offers the same life guideline in RB Chapter 4:20, the Tools of Good Words: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way.”
This week we do well to ask ourselves (refraining from pointing a finger at anyone else – exposing three fingers pointing smack dab back at self, right where the blame belongs): Do my ways invite others to join the church, the community? Does my attitude give others the benefit of the doubt; the attitude that I wish others’ granted me? What do I do or say that may cause seekers or guests or volunteers to step away, give up on the idea of ever coming again or supporting the community, put off joining RCIA or considering a call to religious life? What could I, what could we, do differently? Ponder the closing sentences of the first reading, words attributed to Moses: “Would that all people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all.” [Numbers 11:29]
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Let us join in prayer for a swift, peaceful, and just resolve for persons fleeing their home countries. So many levels of conflict and confusion may make us feel helpless … but we believe firmly that for God ALL THINGS are possible. And we learned that God is depending upon His creatures to do their part. This morning in his homily our chaplain noted: “Each of us is one of us.” Helen Keller is quoted: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” (Helen Keller) Something to think about – what IS my part?
Heartful gratitude to those who contributed to our collection for the people of Haiti devastated by earthquake damage. With your generosity, and the Sisters contributions from their personal monthly allowances, plus a “round-it-up” donation from our community funds, we will be sending $2000 to the St. Luke Foundation – a direct services agency headquartered in Miami, FL