Jesus Hates Cliques
User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 27
Sunday, Sept. 27, is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Since everything Jesus says is so rich, we could fruitfully make each statement in today’s Gospel a different spiritual lesson, treating what he says as a list of aphorisms instead of a continuous speech. But if you apply each saying to the subject he starts out addressing, a deeper lesson emerges.
He starts out responding to the disciple John, who says he saw others driving out demons in his name and tried to stop them. No, said Jesus. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.”
St. John sounds a little bit like some of us Catholics who feel we are already “in the club.” Jesus wants us to be humble and docile, always ready to correct course. Jesus’ advice to us is to let him be God; let the Holy Spirit take care of who needs to do what in the Church and don’t be a busybody, interfering with others who are working hard.
But then, if you apply the rest of the aphorisms to this same audience, some important advice begins to emerge.
First, we learn that we may imagine ourselves in the “in crowd,” but Jesus doesn’t. To him, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” For him, “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ … will surely not lose his reward.”
This puts a mirror up to his audience: Do we turn against him in anything? Do we serve others in his name? In the case of John stopping the expulsion of demons, the picture in the mirror looks dark. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” says Jesus, “it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” So when John defined an “in crowd” of Christians and then policed others out of it, not only did he put himself against Jesus, he potentially caused someone to sin.
This is a lesson St. John learned well. You can see it in his letters. In this passage, you can hear the echoes of this encounter with Our Lord: “The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:7-8). These are the words of a man who learned the hard way that all the righteous are “on the team.”
In addition, in the first reading from the Book of Numbers, God makes clear to Moses that he doesn’t want a “God squad” clique of followers. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” he says. And the Letter of James pours out fiery wrath against complacent Christians who would claim to follow Christ but not act on it in every aspect of their lives — their work and social lives included. If you have built an in-crowd of Catholics, take the Church’s warning seriously, and stop it. Jesus hates cliques.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.