I have good news for you. No, it’s not about the Sydney Swans who won the AFL premiership. And you also know that it is not good news for everyone. It is bad news for some.
What I mean is that I have a good news for people like me who are trying their best and are struggling in their Christian life and Christian spirituality. We don’t have to be perfect in Christian life now, we only have to be faithful in our following of Jesus. In other words let’s not lose sight of him. I’m not making this up. The gospel being read and in fact the gospels we have heard for the past two Sundays now are really great witnesses to this and thus, great consolation for us.
The Sunday before last, we heard of Peter, the one Jesus confirmed as ‘the rock’ upon whom he would build his Church, became a stumbling block for the mission of Jesus. Jesus himself called him ‘satan’ or the ‘opposer’. Peter was a strong character but he wasn’t perfect. He was shaky at times. Last Sunday we heard of the disciples arguing who is the greatest among them. They were so engrossed with their own self-importance that they thought one is more important than the other. Certainly, they were following Jesus but that didn’t make them perfect followers. Then today we hear again one of the disciples, in fact he is John, ‘the beloved’ perhaps, feeling insecured somehow by the presence of another person doing the same thing they were doing but doesn’t belong to their inner circle of twelve or even part of the group of the disciples of Jesus.
Listen to him saying 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.’
Thank God, the disciples of Jesus are human and they were not perfect. They didn’t automatically become good, and faultless when they followed Jesus. They struggled, not only once, but many times as well. So if this is not good News for us who are trying to be good Christians, I don’t know what other good news could we have.
What can we take from this?
That we don’t really have to be perfect in everything as we follow Jesus, we only need to be faithful to him and keep him always in our sight. This is the secret of Mother Teresa and all the saints for that matter.
But what does being faithful to Jesus mean for us now?
Basing on our Readings today, it can mean three things.
First, is by having the same vision with Jesus. John reported to Jesus that ‘someone’ not one of them was doing the same thing that they were doing. Jesus sees it as working for him, because this man was doing it in his name, not for personal gain. Let us listen to Jesus’ answer to John’s concern: ‘No one who works miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us.’
So here Jesus is not only telling John or the other disciples and even to us now, the values of the Kingdom but also a New Vision for the Kingdom. What does it mean? Let us understand that not only Christians can do good. We need to accept the fact that God is working even beyond the institutions that we set-up. We can’t contain him. We can’t limit his love. His love is for everyone. Our God is a God for everyone. Jesus has come for the salvation of all as St Paul would remind us. This means anyone can do good things and even show Christlike attitudes and motivations. And because they are good deeds they are pleasing to God. This means then that the Kingdom of God is not an exclusive domain of Christians. This means every human being can have an active part in the making of the Kingdom of God. This means Christ came for the salvation of all by dying for us all.
One seminary professor in the Philippines once asked us in class: ‘You know the Philippines is a Christian nation, and 80% calls themselves Catholics, why do you think it’s hard or a big task for us to conduct a more productive ecumenical movements or interfaith gatherings for that matter?’ We gave different answers. I can’t remember what I said but I remembered exactly the answer this professor gave. ‘It is because we Catholics are in the majority, and because there are many of us, we tend to believe we are superior, that we are the only ones holding the truth and are in the right track, and all the others are in the wrong way. So we tend to disregard them right from the beginning. What they are saying are not really true anyway, so we say.’
I can’t forget this because it really speaks of us as human beings. If someone comes out and say or do something we are doing but is not part of us, we only react to it by doing one of three things. One, we ignore the person, two, we consider this person a threat to us, or three we invite the person to come and share his life with us, not necessarily becoming one of us. This third approach is what Jesus would want us to take in our Christian life. He is telling us to be more open, more considerate and more understanding of the truth that we Christians are not the only builders of the kingdom of God. We have to accept the fact, that everyone is invited and welcome in the Kingdom of God. What Jesus showed us in his reaction to John’s concern is not only giving us new values of the kingdom but new vision.
The second way we to put the vision of the Jesus for the Kingdom before us is by making the vocation of St Therese whose feast we celebrate today in our parish, our own. And this is the vocation to love. This vocation enlivens and empowers Therese to survive in her struggles to live as a truly Christian and a faithful religious. Because of this noble vocation to love which she lived out faithfully in her life she has become the model of simplicity and humility. The Church indeed is right to proclaim and declare her as one of the great Doctors of the Church. All because Therese realized that her main calling and only calling is to LOVE. One particular experience she shared in autobiography The Story of A Soul, speaks quite clearly how much she tried to live out her vocation to love.
In the Carmelite convent, where St Therese was, there was this nun who she didn’t really like at all. She wrote about her in her autobiography. ‘There is in the community a sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, in her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me…Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works, then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would for the person I loved the most. I prayed to God for her…[But] I wasn’t content simply with praying very much for this sister who gave me so many struggles, but I took care to render her all the services possible and when I was tempted to answer back in a disagreeable manner I was content with giving her my most friendly smile…One day at recreation she asked me…’Would you tell me Sister Therese of the Child Jesus, what attracts you so much toward me, everytime you look at me, I see you smile?’ Ah what attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul, Jesus who makes sweet what is most bitter.’ [Story of a Soul- manus.C, pp.222.223.]
The third way to keep the vision of Jesus for the Kingdom on sight is to enrich our spiritual life with spiritual things rather than collecting or hoarding material riches. St James in our Second Reading today had issued a warning for those who are rich only in terms of material possessions gained through unjust wages, cheating and all forms of injustices. He wrote:
‘Labourers mowed your fields and you cheated them- listen to the wages of that you kept back, calling out; realize that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts…you condemned the innocent and killed them.’
So this social justice Sunday is an opportunity for us to invest our treasures on to the kingdom of God…and let Jesus be our manager to it…It will not only give us interest back but it assured us of eternal security and eternal life.
So as we continue our Eucharistic celebration today. Let’s pray that we always keep this vision of Jesus for the kingdom before us. Let us also pray that we may obtain the courage to get rid of those unnecessary baggages and our sins,that would lead us away from the Kingdom of God. For the meantime as we continue our Christian journey, let us make the words of St Therese our own: ‘I will spend my heaven, by doing good on earth.’