What keeps us from living as disciples of Jesus?
By Tim Irwin
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 26
Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8,10,12-13,14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
This Sunday’s Gospel explores the question: who speaks authentically on behalf of Jesus? It also offers a stern message concerning those things that might stop us from fully accepting the invitation from Jesus to live as his disciples.
The reading begins with the apostle John saying, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus answers, “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. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Jesus seems to be saying that those who love the Father as he does with their whole heart, mind and soul and others as he loves them are doing the mighty deeds that confirm their discipleship and both proclaim and reveal that the Kingdom of God is at hand. You might be thinking, “I don’t recall ever experiencing those mighty deeds much less the Kingdom of God.”
Catholicism is easy to understand. It’s all about how to be a disciple of Jesus so that we might fall in love with the Divine. The difficulty comes in trying to authentically do that day after day as we navigate the complex challenges of contemporary life.
We certainly have been given the opportunity to have such experiences. The Holy Mass invites us to enter into the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, the mightiest of all deeds, and experience in some measure the Kingdom of God. If that’s not happening for you at Mass, maybe it’s you? Catholicism is not spectator sport. If you need a little help to get active in your discipleship, opportunities abound.
Prayer, sacrament and service mark the Catholic life well lived. Perhaps volunteering to advance the welfare of others might help one to experience the Kingdom of God. Your parish may be able to connect you with some opportunities. Have you considered making a retreat? Cursillo offers a tried-and-true retreat experience. It came to the Diocese of Peoria in 1964 and has served thousands of people ever since. If you have never made a retreat, it’s a terrific way to start. Cursillo weekends happen across the diocese. Check here for details.
TRUE PATH TO HAPPINESS
The second part of the Gospel message offers some grim advice to those who become preoccupied with anything that blocks or retards their discipleship in the Kingdom of God. Amputating limbs and partially blinding oneself seem like a hyperbole because nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus specifically demand that of anyone. Quite to the contrary, when a disciple at the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane lops off the ear of the High Priests’ servant, Jesus tells him to put his sword away and, according to St. Luke, heals the wound. So, why the exaggeration?
Things that interfere with our relationship with Jesus block us from becoming our better, more Christ-like selves today and our best, most Christ-like selves in eternity. We really will be happier today and in eternity if we set them aside. It’s hard to believe. Our contemporary culture tells us that doing my own thing, having it my own way, not Jesus’s way leads to happiness.
That might seem to make Catholicism difficult to understand, but somehow easily livable, at least in a superficial way. It’s really just the opposite. Catholicism is easy to understand. It’s all about how to be a disciple of Jesus so that we might fall in love with the Divine. The difficulty comes in trying to authentically do that day after day as we navigate the complex challenges of contemporary life.
We have each other — the Church to lend the guidance and support that we each need for this epic struggle and it’s in the Church that we will experience those mighty deeds that reveal that the Kingdom of God really is at hand.
Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.