For and Against
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Whoever isn’t for us is against us, Jesus says.
That’s what I like: black and white. My way or the highway.
But wait a minute. That’s not what Jesus says in the gospel today. It’s what he says in Matthew and it’s what he says in Luke, and there are reasons for this and contexts for this.
But the gospel today is Mark’s, and what Jesus says in Mark is: whoever is not against us is for us.
Now that’s a completely different proposition. That’s a much more open-ended thing.
There are six billion people on the planet, and only a handful of those are against me personally in some way--they don’t like me or approve of me. And only say 10% are against me in some general way, because I’m an American or a Catholic or a man.
OK. So that means that well over 5 billion people are for me, are with me, are on my side.
It’s not a war, it’s a concert. Not an army, a choir. A river.
I did a wedding in Seattle over the summer, at St. Joseph’s church, between a Catholic woman and a Hindu man, from India. At the rehearsal, the Hindu man’s little niece walked into church. She looked around, and she looked up, at the statues and the stained glass windows. And then she said, in all innocence and sincerity: wow, great decorations!
I think it really means something that the Church doesn’t object to a Catholic woman marrying a Hindu man--that it doesn’t require the Hindu to become a Catholic. All that’s necessary is that he respect and honor his wife’s faith, that the two of them live together with mutual respect.
As Tyler and Erin will live together in mutual respect--Tyler and Erin, here in the front row, married yesterday in a Lutheran liturgy. Tyler Catholic, Erin Lutheran, in love with each other and accepting of each other.
In just a minute I will have the great honor of blessing their marriage, of offering our Church’s approval and support. And we welcome today all their family and friends. It is good that you are here. It is good that we are all here.
Whoever is not against me, is for me.
And then the gospel makes an interesting leap.
You know that the gospel writers probably didn’t write most of the gospels from scratch. They edited or “redacted” them, stitching together pre-existing stories and sayings of Jesus, and Mark, especially, does this really abruptly and quickly. He really jams things together.
So today we’ve got the first part, the inclusive part, about most of the world being for us. But then we switch to cutting off our feet and cutting off our hands and suddenly Jesus is being really definite and clear. It’s almost the opposite.
Except that on second thought it isn’t. There’s a meaning that jumps across the gap, a spark, and I think it’s this: that we need to be open and forgiving with others and focus instead on our own issues and problems.
“Anytime you have a negative feeling toward anyone,” Anthony De Mello says, “you’re living in an illusion. There’s something seriously wrong with you. You’re not seeing reality. Something inside you has to change.”
It’s not that other people are always OK. It’s not that we have to like them and accept them. It’s that we can’t blame them for our problems.
This is how C.S. Lewis advises us to understand the talk about enemies in the Psalms, about slaying our enemies and bashing the babies of our enemies. He says, internalize it. Understand those enemies as your own sins, your pride and your envy and your gluttony. Never take them literally.
But always take them seriously, absolutely seriously, because there is a battle to be fought here, a battle to be fought everyday, and we can’t fight it if we’re busy sticking our noses into other peoples’ business.
If your HBO offends thee, cut it out.
If your internet offends thee, cut it out.
If your credit card offends thee, cut it out.
If your overeating offends, if your drinking offends, if your drug use offends.
Your racism, your sexism, your too easy opinions, your too easy generalizations.
Your profanity. Your lust.
Cut it out. Cut it all out.
Notice: we don’t cut off anybody else’s foot. We don’t pluck out anybody else’s eye.
Most of all we need to cut out our attachments. Most of all we need to pluck out anything that becomes more important to us than God--reputation and power and influence--our jobs, our houses, our bodies. It’s our attachments that keep us from heaven, and not just in the afterlife but now, here on earth.
It’s ourselves we need to face. It’s ourselves we need to analyze.
And if we don’t--if we’re always complaining about others, especially groups of others--immigrants, liberals, conservatives, the Church, the government--whatever it is--if we’re always focused on somebody else, if in marriage we’re always thinking about our spouse’s flaws, always blaming our spouse for our problems, we need to stop and turn and look inside. We need to ask ourselves: what’s wrong with us? What personal problems are we afraid to face? What illusions are we clinging to?
No one else can make us happy, not even our husband or wife. Only God can make us happy. And only we can turn to God. Only we can surrender.
And as we move through the world, as we look around us, let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, just as a default position, let’s assume that all these other people, all these strangers, all these people of different colors and cultures and faiths--all these people are my brothers, all these people are my sisters.
That it’s not evil that’s abounding. It’s grace.