Sosthenes, Apollo, Cephas, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, Ceasar, and Onesiphorus, Codices vaticani graeci 1613, Menalogion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Vatican City State.
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There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Mark 9:39-40
Words highlighted in red are links to supporting materials.
The icon above has been deliberately selected to baffle you. Who on earth are these men? They have haloes, so they are probably holy. If you are very familiar with the New Testament, you may recognize Onesiphorus, mentioned twice by St. Paul in his Second Letter to Timothy for his hospitality at a time many had deserted Paul. The others are also mentioned briefly in the Epistles, but basically they can be considered unknown compared to the apostles themselves. But clearly even a brief mention can be construed as being a great model of discipleship, courage and devotion. So what is all this about? Today’s gospel has the followers of Jesus in a big flap as they found an unknown man “driving out demons” in Jesus’ name. They tried to stop him, only to be told plainly by Jesus, “Do not stop him”. So, using the logic here, it could have been one of the men in the icon above, unknown to them but known to Paul who probably taught them and brought them to faith in Jesus. And Jesus is quite clear and straight about it, that people such as these should be left alone. If they are not against us, they are for us!
Now, looking down the centuries of religious history, you could make a good case for wars between Christians being much more common than co-operation between Christians. Indeed, you might say that only in the last 50-100 years has there been anything like amity and understanding between us all who call ourselves Christian. Yet even now there are moments of, shall we say, extreme dislike between some of us. Couldn’t you make a case that such ferocity between Christians flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching today? Jesus, if he was clear about anything, was crystal clear on one thing, we must love one another! Indeed he ordered it! (John 13:34-35). For example, let us take a case of pure Christianity from the 19th century. Catherine Booth was an Englishwoman, born in 1829, died in 1890. If you were counted among the working poor, which almost everyone was during her lifetime, life would have been a daily challenge, with work hours typically over 12 a day, education for children almost unknown, wages a pittance and illness a daily dread. Catherine Booth and her husband William devoted their lives to making this terrible situation better for as many as possible. Their message was that of Jesus, their actions that of Jesus. They were the founders of the Salvation Army, sometimes called the “keeper of the conscience” of England. They sought to rid the poor of alcoholism, provide cheap food for the poorest, and convince their followers, among whom were some wealthy people, by preaching why they should take the teachings of Jesus seriously. Indeed, Catherine broke a sacred taboo and she herself preached, apparently to great effect, stating that St. Paul’s instruction that women should keep silent in church had resulted in “more loss to the Church, evil to the world, and dishonor to God, than any of [its] errors”. It would take a brave woman to say that today in some Christian traditions, let alone 150 years ago! Was she teaching Christian truths? Yes. What would Jesus say according to today’s gospel? Do not stop her!
So today’s teaching requires us to be pretty broad-minded when it comes to those teaching and trying to live Christian ideals. There is nothing in such teaching which warrants hatred of any kind at all, and if such is present, surely there is doubt if such teaching is Christian at all. Looking back over the doleful history of inter-Christian hatred and warfare, Jesus must have wept to see us behaving in such a way. There is no way that could have represented his teaching, especially as seen in today’s gospel. Love has been his order of the day over the last 2000 years! Yet so any times this has been ignored, forgotten, trampled. It seems so strange that when the Christian church was being persecuted in its first 300 years of life, Terullian, one of the church’s first theologians, wrote, “Look . . . how [Christians] love one another (for [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other)”. That is what the Lord must have had in mind in today’s gospel. Christians have no room for hatred of any kind in their makeup. If such is there, it destroys love and enthrones discord, and like destructive weeds, it must be uprooted and thrown aside. “We are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness”, as St. Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:5). That is the keystone of our faith, as found in our Lord and Savior.
Catherine Booth, Geo. Wade, sculptor: “Here, in East London, Catherine Booth, together with her husband, William, commenced the work of the Salvation Army, July 1865.” This statue was dedicated by Commissioner Silvia Cox and Commissioner Nancy Roberts on 2nd July 2015, the 150th Anniversary of the Salvation Army.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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