In this reading Jesus warns us against the exclusive attitude which says that, unless someone completely shares our opinions and our faith, they can do no good. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
38 John said to Jesus, ‘Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’ 39 But Jesus said, ‘You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.
41 ‘If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.
42 ‘But anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith, would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck. 43 And if your hand should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life crippled, than to have two hands and go to hell, into the fire that cannot be put out. 45 And if your foot should cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter into life lame, than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out; it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell 48 where their worm does not die nor their fire go out.’
Other readings: Numbers 11:25-29 Psalm 18 (19) James 5:1-6
This gospel reading contains a collection of different sayings of Jesus. The first speech warns us against the exclusive attitude which says that, unless someone completely shares our opinions and our faith, they can do no good. The next saying seems to confirm this. Any good deed from whatever source, Jesus implies, should be welcomed and will be rewarded.
Jesus then speaks of ‘obstacles’ placed in the way of believers, the ‘little ones’ who have faith. The Greek word used here is similar to the word ‘scandal’. To scandalise others, to violate their faith, to undermine their pursuit of what is good and right, is plainly wrong.
Jesus then apparently suggests that self-mutilation, cutting off hand or foot, and tearing out the eye, would be better than sinning. What are we to make of this? This is an extreme way of pointing out the seriousness of sin. Christians should understand the strength of what Jesus is saying, but Christian teaching has never condoned self-harm of this magnitude.
Finally, what are we to make of the references to hell and its eternal fire? The Church teaches us that the image of eternal fire is an attempt to express the dreadful pain of losing God and of shutting oneself off from the love of others. This pain is worse than any physical suffering.
How accepting am I of the goodness of those who do not share my beliefs?
Do I place obstacles in the way of others, undermining their faith and goodness?
We pray for the zeal which always seeks what is good.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy