(Some opening remarks about the first reading from the Book of Esther. This "novela" story shows how there has been a compromise between mercy and violence: extend some mercy when it suits, but be open to taking revenge and do violence when it suits. Jesus does away with this compromise and replaces it with total mercy. Violence has no part in God who is Love.)
Last week I ended my sermon with an admonition of a wise Abbot to a young monk who wasn't gifted with any skill and felt very useless in his community: Just keep yourself at peace and others will find peace just being near you.
Peace is elusive in our time and is not very easy to achieve, whether as individuals or communities or nations. Just keeping yourself at peace is hard work: letting go of our fears and prejudices, forgiving others over and over again, doing mercy to the poor, not striking back when we are hurt. To do these things is not easy, but it is what Jesus asks us as his followers:
Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Of course the immediate context for Jesus' words was talking to his disciples, who like us, had a difficult time understanding what Jesus was getting at, what his purpose for coming into the world was. Peace is worth the sacrifice!
Jesus in the Gospel is talking about matters of life and death. While the disciples discussed who was the greatest among themselves, or who was in and who was out of their fellowship, Jesus always had to wake them up to his basic message of merciful love and inclusion.
Today's Gospel begins with the disciple complaining that someone was going around casting out demons in Jesus' name. "We tried to stop him, because he was not following us." The disciples were attempting to keep the privilege of being Jesus' agents for themselves! It's funny, but I bet the disciples themselves weren't doing many exorcisms, and so when they saw someone praying over people for healing in Jesus' name, they became very uptight.
Jesus responds to their nervousness and jealousy bascially by saying: Who cares? "Whoever is not against us is for us." and don't "put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me."
Beginning his visit this week to the United States, Pope Francis talked about honoring people of "good will," wherever they come from, acting inclusively in ways of peace and healing for the well-being of the whole world. This is the work of the Holy Spirit: All are to be included unless they themselves take steps to exclude themselves. The church of Jesus will include all, sects usally will exclude most.
Jesus shocked his disciples by invoking the Sharia type law of his day: If you say you're my follower and you scandalize people by your unfaithfulness, then let a rock be tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea. And if your hand steals or does something against another, or your foot leads you down an evil path, or your eyes gaze covetously upon something that is not yours, cut the hand or foot off, or pluck out the offending eye.
Using these kinds of words and images, Jesus got his disciples attention. Of course Jesus is not encouraging anyone to cut off any offending limb or organ. He would be the one to subject himself to "cutting," torture, and death. His message was: If you don't find a way to follow my way to peace, and continue scandalizing others, especially the "little ones" of this world, you will continue to find yourselves heading into deeper cycles of violence and death.
The Pope in his speech on the White House lawn quoted Martin Luther King on the "Promisory Note" of freedom, long ignored, that needs to be to paid now, in our time. Another quote from MLK that I like is when he said: "It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and non-violence. It is either between non-violence or non-existence."
This is where Jesus tried to lead his disciples, and now, this is where the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope are trying to lead us and the world. Speaking of "cutting:" We are the branches grafted unto the Vine by our Baptism in Jesus and watered by his forgiveness and love. The Holy Eucharist is the Fruit of the Vine that nourishes us (flour,salt,bit of sweetness and water), "salts" us to be people who bring the flavor of peace wherever we go.
Let us pray for the courage to not be scandalized, tripped up, away from the following of Jesus whose words and example can lead us to peace.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.