FROM A READING FOR SEPT. 27, 2015: 26TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward...' -- Mark 9:40-41


One of the most difficult things for God's followers to learn is that their task on earth is simply to proclaim God's message, not to control God's message.

The difficulty arises because, in most situations, we proclaim God's message against the background of an institution. Institutions normally have membership lists, informing us who's in and who's out. Some individuals are in the institution's good graces; others aren't. Not only do we have to be familiar with the membership regulations, those who play footloose with such stipulations might lose their own membership.

That's one of the reasons many of us are taken aback when Scripture scholars like the late Rev. Raymond Brown, SS, correctly insist: "The historical Jesus had no intention of founding a Church as we know it."

The Palestinian Jew who lived in the first third of the first century AD, whom most Christians regard as the founder of their "religion," never formed an institution. As we know from His initial proclamation of the Good News back in chapter one, Jesus of Nazareth revolved His ministry around announcing that God's kingdom is right here and now.

All in God
He was convinced that God is present, working effectively in everyone's daily life -- no exceptions -- in the lives of those who are in and those who are out. He clearly states that conviction in Sunday's Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48).

John begins the narrative by informing Him, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." Expecting a nod of approval, John must have been totally surprised by Jesus' response: "Do not prevent him!"

The reason is simple: "Whoever is not against us is for us." In other words, "Why are you trying to stop someone from doing good just because he or she isn't following the rules you've artificially created for doing good? God's obviously able to work through a person who 'does not follow us,' just as well as through people who do follow us."

More than 1,200 years before Jesus' birth, Moses dealt with a similar situation (Numbers 11:25-29): How can Eldad and Medad have received Yahweh's spirit when they weren't in the group designated to receive that spirit? Doesn't Yahweh have to obey the institution's rules and regulations?

Once again, a major biblical figure challenges an informer's frame of mind. "Would that Yahweh might bestow His spirit on them all," Moses responds.

For our sacred authors, a frame of mind consistently trumps membership in an institution.

That's why Jesus' proclamation of the good news always includes a demand for "repentance." Unless we turn our value systems upside down -- experience a "metanoia" -- we'll never benefit from the good news.

Lens of God
Along with getting rid of any obstacles which stop us from achieving the life Jesus offers, we're to begin experiencing people and situations from Jesus' viewpoint, as James does in Sunday's second reading (James 5:1-6). No longer, for instance, is wealth something to be desired or achieved.

One more point: We've traditionally misunderstood the identity of the "little ones who believe in me."

According to Marcan experts, Mark's Jesus is talking about Christian believers, those who've already given themselves over to the risen Jesus. He reserves one of His worst sins (and punishments) for those who subvert the original fervor and dedication of His followers, who change or obliterate the frame of mind He initially instilled in them. Could some of us "institutional" Catholics be guilty of such a sin?