01 October 2009

Stumbling Blocks

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (27 September 2009)

Readings: Nm 11:25-29; Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

I would like to begin by citing the parallels between the Gospel text and First Reading this Sunday.

1. An unnamed man in the Gospel, and two men, Eldad and Medad, in the First Reading, were caught doing “unsanctioned” work of the Spirit. The former was driving out demons, the latter were prophesying among the people.

2. John the Evangelist and Joshua (both are known to be closest to Jesus and Moses, respectively) asked that the individual/s in question be stopped.

3. The tenor of both Jesus’ and Moses’ answer was the same: “Let them be.” Moses: “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” Jesus: “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

Both readings caution against judging rashly, for by doing so the overly-zealous disciple may be undermining other people’s path to service and holiness. In the first place, who are we to judge who deserves to be blessed or called by God?

Further, the Gospel tells us…
1. to be careful lest we be the cause of scandal to others, thus, leading them astray, and
2. to recognize the stumbling blocks in our lives that obstructs our way to God.

And no, Jesus does not advocate capital punishment or mutilation to prevent scandal and sin. Hyperbolic language is used here only in order to drive home the point more strongly.

So what are the things that may block our way to holiness? Aside from the usual suspects – wealth (the point of the Second Reading), power and fame – Jesus tells us even the good that we have or do may lead us to sin: our hands, feet and eyes, our family and loved ones, our job, even our advocacies and commitments to Church and civic causes.

How do we know if the good things we have and do have become our stumbling blocks?

1. If they become our priority over God and heaven.

One indicator of this is when we feel that doing the right thing has become a burden or takes the job too long, when we begin to cut corners or compromise our principles.

There is a story about a soldier who, before going to battle, told his commanding officer: “Sir, let us pray that God is on our side.” His commanding officer replied: “No, let us pray that we are on God’s side.”

2. If they make us think more highly of ourselves and less of others.

If we see that our own gifts and good deeds serve mainly to inflate our ego, then we know we are no longer on the right path.

The English writer Joseph Addison warns: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” The Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore advises: “We come nearest to the great when we are great in humility.”

3. If they stop us from growing.

This one is the most dangerous because it is the most subtle. If what we do right now, makes us self-satisfied, resistant to change or reluctant to make things better, then we know we have a stumbling block.

If you’re a student and you study only enough to pass the course, the way you study is your stumbling block to real learning. If you think your going to church every Sunday is enough to fulfill your Christian obligation, then your going to church becomes your stumbling block to Christian perfection.

I would like to end this reflection with a prayer I came upon again just recently:

“Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.

Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow. Amen.”

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