Who Belongs and Who Doesn’t – by Fr. Sean Shallow – Pastor of St. Raphael’s and St. Margaret of Scotland Parishes
Numbers 11: 25-29; Psalm 19; James 5: 1-6; Mark 9: 38-43, 47-48
Before someone joins an organization or club there is usually some sort of criteria that must be met. If you want to be a member of the Catholic Women’s League, you have to be a Catholic woman. If you want to teach in our Catholic Schools, certain Christian qualities are expected. If you want to sing in the parish choir, it helps if you can hold a tune. If you want to join a biker gang, you need to own a motorcycle, and in some cases, a Harley Davidson at least. If we want to call ourselves Catholic there are certain things we must believe. When we choose to belong to a group or club certain things are expected. If you don’t have them, you can’t belong. There are almost always a set of rules that determine who belongs and who doe not.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, the apostle John brings to Jesus’ attention that someone is casting out demons in his name. In other words, someone who didn’t belong was doing Jesus’ work. This person wasn’t part of the group and it bothered John. He seemed to believe that to be a follower of Jesus was to be part of an exclusive group, a group that only a few privileged people could belong to. Jesus lays down for John a clear and simple rule for those who belong with him. "Whoever is not against us is for us." A pretty simple rule wouldn’t you say? So why do we so often get it wrong? Why are we sometimes just like John, all caught up that others aren’t cutting the mustard, that there are so many people who don’t belong as followers of Jesus?
I think of the people who don’t regularly go to church. I think of the people who have different beliefs and values than us. I think of the person who lifestyle may challenge what we have been taught. I think of the unintelligent, the disabled, people who may not be of sound mind and body. We are all guilty of making judgements of these people, we are all guilty of being judge of who makes a good Christian and who shouldn’t even be considered one.
Every so often we read in the papers controversies about people who receive communion. In many cases, public figures that some Catholics perceive as the unworthy. We are quick to judge these people but do we really know what’s in their hearts. Can we honestly say that we know the state of a person’s soul as they approach the Eucharistic table?
During my last holiday, I was heading to the state of Maine to see some friends. On my way, I was listening to call in radio program on a Catholic radio station and heard about the death of Senator Ted Kennedy. Some of what I heard, bothered me. Caller after caller, people insisted that there be no catholic funeral for the late senator. One lady exclaimed, "he didn’t deserve one." The Priest answering the calls reminded his listeners that although Ted Kennedy was a sinner, he had done much good for his people. I have to agree with the Radio Priest. I’ve been faced with situations where giving someone a funeral was in question. I would have added that God gives to us, not because we deserve his love, but because we need it all the more. My point here is not to debate whether or not Senator Kennedy should have had a catholic funeral, instead, I would invite us to think a little harder about the opinions that we sometimes utter.
As Catholics it can be easy for us to exclude others. We have a two thousand year old tradition filled with all kinds of rules of membership. Its tempting for us to sit on our thrones judging who should and shouldn’t belong. We have all been John believing we know who fits into our group. Jesus challenges us to look carefully at those whom we judge, to see the good in them, the ways that they are following Jesus. Our Gospel invites us to "cut off" those things which keep us from God’s Kingdom. To "cut off" all our notions of who belongs and who doesn’t.