30 September. 26th Sunday

1st Reading: Numbers (11:25-29)

Moses shares the leadership with others who share in his prophetic gift

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. Two men stayed in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Resp. Psalm (Ps 19)

R.: The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart

The law of the Lord is perfect,
it revives the soul.
The rule of the Lord is to be trusted,
it gives wisdom to the simple. (R./)

The fear of the Lord is holy,
abiding for ever.
The decrees of the Lord are truth
and all of them just. (R./)

So in them your servant finds instruction;
great reward is in their keeping.
But who can detect all his errors?
From hidden faults acquit me. (R./)

From presumption restrain your servant
and let it not rule me.
Then shall I be blameless,
clean from grave sin. (R./)

2nd Reading: James (5:1-6)

It is wrong to grow rich by exploiting others

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day, slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.

Gospel: Mark (9:38-43, 45, 47-48)

Be tolerant, and do not scandalise the little ones

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.”


Who’s on our side?

“Whoever is not against us is for us” sounds a tad naive. Given that about one in every three of us chooses not to vote in referendums and other elections, it is clear that not everybody has a strong opinion on everything.

Apathy is a reality and is not really a support for anything. Apathy is a terrible frustration for people who believe in something. We can all hold strong opinions and values and feel frustrated when others don’t care one way or the other about something we value deeply. Unlike the opponent who will debate with us, the disinterested will nod and agree in our presence but yawn when we are gone.

Unlike elections, maybe one in every three is convinced that there is a God or rejects that belief. Both positions work hard to convince the rest of humanity that they are correct. Little changes. A person’s belief in or rejection of God is the result of their experience not philosophy. Anyone with a good experience of people of faith is more likely to value faith in his or her own life. Conversely, a bad experience is likely to drive people away.

Churches and parishes are supposed to demonstrate goodness but they have no monopoly on it. Faith is not essential to being a good person. Most who are apathetic to whether or not God exists still treat others as they would have the others treat them. Even non-believers can be selfless ministers of charity and reach out to less fortunate neighbours. They light the lives of others by living the kind of lives that Jesus calls for.

Good actions, thoughts and words are not the preserve of our own particular group. Goodness can exist outside of the official channels too. Jesus felt the need to remind his apostles of this. Far from naivety, the “us” in Jesus’s remark refers to all men and women who choose goodness in their lives. Only those who take an active stance against goodness are actually against us.

[adapted from Fergal Mac Eoinín]

Who may act in Jesus’ name?

[José Antonio Pagola]

The disciples come to Jesus with a pressing problem. Their spokesperson is John, one of the two ambitious brothers who wanted the top positions. This time he wants to establish that only disciples can act in Jesus’ name. Surely they must have the sole rights to Jesus — something like a monopoly to speak and act on his behalf. They’re annoyed that an enterprising exorcist — not one of their group — was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Even if people were actually being cured the disciples could only focus on the prestige of their own group. That’s why they want to nip his activity of this outsider in the bud. «Stop him. He’s not one of us». They take it for granted that, in order to act in Jesus’ name and harness his healing power, you must be a member of his group. Surely nobody can use the holy name of Jesus without being an accredited member of his Church. But is that really so? What does Jesus himself say?

Our Lord’s words are crystal clear: «You must not stop him». The name of Jesus and his healing power are more important than the prestige of his disciples. It’s good that the salvation brought by Jesus extends way beyond the established Church and helps people of many backgrounds to live more humanly. No one should see it as an unfriendly competition. Jesus has not set up his group to control every aspect of salvation. He’s not the rabbi of a closed school, but the Prophet of a salvation that’s open to everyone. His Church must support his Name, wherever it’s invoked to do good. Jesus doesn’t want us to talk about “us and them,” those who can act in his name and those who can’t. His way of seeing things is generous and broad: «Anyone who is not against us is for us».

In today’s society there are many who work for a more just and human world without belonging to the Church. Some aren’t believers, but they contribute to God’s reign and God’s justice. They’re on our side. We need to rejoice instead of looking at them with resentment. We need to support them, not discredit them.

It’s wrong for church people to see hostility and evil all around us, believing naively that we alone are bearers of Jesus’ Spirit. He wouldn’t approve of this at all. He invites us to work together joyfully with all who live more humanly and are concerned about more justice and sharing in our world.


Hospitality has a high profile in the Middle East. This is true even today, and it’s often mentioned in the Bible. Just recall  the warmth of welcome in the story of Eleazer and Rebekah (Gen 24:15-26) and the warm encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well. As a Christian virtue, hospitality got added impetus from Jesus when he personalised it. Whoever receives one sent by Christ receives Christ himself. God is in his Son and his Son is in the apostles and they, in turn, are in the Christians who are made welcome. Even those who give as little as a cup of water will be rewarded.

But true hospitality cannot be practised on a pick-and-choose basis. Most people find it easy to be good hosts when they are safely at home and need to entertain a friend or someone entitled to special consideration. It can be a different matter to be generous to people outside one’s own circle. We can live in a sort of bubble, so wrapped up in our own social circle that we build barriers rather than bridges  .. as in the case of the freelance exorcist in today’s Gospel.

Catholics are not always enthusiastic about acknowledging the spread of God’s Spirit in other Churches, in non-Christian religions and, indeed, in every creature. It came as a shock to some of us when Vatican II recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit in  the Ecumenical Movement among other Christians. But we need also to notice Christ’s uncompromising stand vis-à-vis scandal, described in today’s Gospel. Recognising the presence of the Holy Spirit outside the Church does not mean we should neglect it inside the Church. We need to welcome the guidance of grace, wherever the Spirit becomes visible.

Don’t be a stumbling stone

Have you ever stubbed a toe against a raised cobblestone? A cobblestone becomes a stumbling-stones if out of alignment with its neighbours. We must not  be a stumbling-stone to others. To faithfully walk in the way of the Lord we need others, and they need us. The saints have offered encouragement and good example all through the history of the church. We look to them to know what it means to be disciples. Even today, people near us in time and place do the same for us, showing us the right path by their way of living. Conversely, some lead others astray, inviting or luring them onto paths that are not in keeping with our human dignity. As pope Francis might put it, we are to be building-blocks rather than stumbling-stones.

Jesus underlines these two converse possibilities. He praises the one who gives a cup of cold water, and blames the one who is an obstacle. He even called Peter, the leader of the twelve, a “scandal” or obstacle. When Peter tried to dissuade him from taking the path of sacrifice, Jesus rebuked him sharply, ‘You are a stumbling block to me’ (Mt 16:23). Others proved to be ‘stumbling-blocks’ on other occasions. When some parents were trying to bring their children to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples mistakenly tried to forbid it. Today’s gospel shows disciples trying to block someone from doing the Lord’s work, just because he was not one of them. In response, Jesus rebukes them, ‘Do not stop him—Anyone who is not against us is for us.’

In all these cases the objectors meant well. Even well-meaning people can be a hindrance to the Lord’s work. We can be stumbling block without realizing it, thinking that ours is the Lord’s way, and trying to impose our way on others. The disciples painfully learned that their narrow perspective was an obstacle to the grace. Those they judged to be outsiders, Jesus regarded as ‘for us.’ The Lord recognizes and encourages goodness wherever it is found. The Spirit blows where it wills and we need to look for the signs of the Spirit’s presence. Likewise, Moses recognized and rejoiced in the movement of the Spirit in the lives of Eldad and Medad, even when others wanted to silence them.

What a disaster if we were to try to ‘quench the Spirit.’ We might hinder the good work of others for a whole variety of reasons. It could be jealousy, as in today’s first reading. Like the disciples, we can fail to acknowledge God’s work if done by people who are not ‘one of us’. We can despise good work simply because it is not how we ourselves would have done it, forgetting that the Holy Spirit works in diverse ways. In today’s world, so full of stumbling stones to the working of grace in our lives, we must not be stumbling stones to each other. We need to give the cup of cold water, nurture the good in each other, and celebrate grace in the lives of others.

Gan bheith ina chloch nó cúis titim (Don’t be a stumbling stone)

Ar bhuail tú riamh do chos i gcoinne constaicí, cosúil le cloch ardaithe ar an gcosán? Is féidir le cloí cloiche a bheith ina gcló maolú má bhíonn sé ar ailíniú leis na rudaí thart timpeall orthu. Tugtar rabhadh dúinn gan a bheith cosúil le cloch súgartha do dhaoine eile. Ní mór dúinn an dea-shampla a thabhairt agus daoine eile a spreagadh má táimid ag siúl ar bhealach an Tiarna. Bhí an ról sin ag na naoimh i stair na heaglaise. Bímid ag féachaint orthu a léiriú cad é a chiallaíonn sé a bheith ina ndiocail an Tiarna agus leanann siad ag cabhrú linn inniu fiú. D’fhéadfadh go mbeadh daoine níos gaire dúinn in am agus in áit ag tagairt an freastal céanna dúinn. Taispeánann siad dúinn an bealach ceart tríd a slí maireachtála  féin. Ach ar a mhalairt, tá roinnt daoine i gceannas ar dhaoine eile nach thugann an dea-shampla riachtanach. Glaonn focal an Tiarna inniu dúinn a bheith ina bloic thógála seachas clocha fánaíochta.


(Saint Jerome, priest and doctor of the Church)

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus (347-420) from Stridon (in modern Albania) was a priest, theologian and historian, who wrote many works of biblical scholarship while living a quasi-monastic life in Bethlehem. At the request of pope Damasus he translated the Bible into the Latin version (the Vulgate), which for more than fifteen centuries was normative in the Latin (Western) church.


  1. Paddy Ferry says:

    I came home from Mass today, after that very harsh gospel passage from St. Mark –cutting off hands and feet and tearing out eyes—- and hoped that the commentary on this site or, perhaps,one of our usual enlightened and well informed contributors would help me understand better what Jesus was trying to communicate.
    However, having read it all, the emphasis seems to be on the “whoever is not against us is for us” bit.
    “Do not scandalise the little ones” well, I don’t think we need much analysis of that sentiment.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    The Anglican priest I heard this morning told us that when he was a chaplain he was warned never to read that text in the hearing of psychotic patients who would be quite capable of putting it into practice. (Did not Origen?) He made an attempt to give it a gloss by saying it underlines the wonder of the new gospel life and puts us on our guard against throwing it away.

    Liam Swords was asked what he thought of hell (on tv) and answered: “As Karl Rahner says, “hell is the possibility of final loss.'” His bishop was on the phone: “Father, when you’re asked a simple question, why can’t you give a simple answer?”

    I think that dictum ascribed to Rahner gets it right — hell is a sobering thought, and the harsh lingo of the gospel can be translated into those terms of thought.

    Teaching the hell sermons in Joyce to some students, I offered them one by Newman which they found mild, to my surprise.

    “The Dream of Gerontius” gives some vivid glimpses of hell, but they too are rather mild. The fiends “who gather souls for Hell” are swept aside as the soul advances to God.

  3. Fair point, Paddy (1). I did not venture into that minefield of hyperbole, where literal interpretation would lead to self-harm …. and the sort of dangers mentioned by Joe (2).

    Kieran O’Mahony’s comment on the passage may halp: “A radical self-purification is what is in mind. A social science reading would suggest the hand means engagement with others. The verses following are wrapped up in the hyperbole characteristic of rabbinic discourse. The words “stumbling block” and “stumble” tumble through the passage giving a kind of unity. The general meaning is not lost, however: choices, even sacrifices, have to be made, and made in good time, that is, now!”

    In my view, the core message underlying those frightening words is about the seriousness of discipleship and the Lord’s call to radical commitment. Something of this “cost of discipleship” idea can be read on Wednesday, at https://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2018/10/03-october-wednesday-week-26/.

  4. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Pat, and Joe too.
    Oiche mhaith.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pat, your mention of Bonhoeffer also chimes with the sermon I heard yesterday: Fr Bulson mentioned Bonhoeffer and “costly grace.” It looks as if something like an approved tradition for dealing with such texts is building up.

    This reminds me of how my friend Jean Greisch dealt with another notorious text. He met a Norman curé who complained that he never had a holiday, so Greisch offered to fill in for him, but the priest stayed on and listened to his sermons. One day Greisch commented on Jephthah killing his daughter to fulfil his promise that “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, wne I return victorious from the Ammonites, is the Lord’s” (Judges 11:31). Greisch talked about old institutions of human sacrifice and suggested that the tale was intended to raise our minds to a spiritual level of sacrifice, abolishing the primitive past.

    At breakfast the curé remarked, “That was a very strange homily. Why could you not stick to the traditional interpretation, that the story warns us against rash vows?” “Oh, that’s a very flat reading,” Greisch, himself rash, replied; “I’m sure none of the Fathers of the Church would give such a banal interpretation.”

    The curé said nothing, but next morning at breakfast Greisch found a Migne volume of St Jerome open at the relevant page, interpreting the story as a warning against rash vows. “Oh, Jerome, always so pedestrian and literal — I was thinking of lofty thinkers like St Augustine.”

    Again the curé said nothing, and agsin next morning Greisch found a volume of Migne, St Augustine this time, giving the very same interpretation of the tale.

    “I admit defeat,” Greisch said, “and I compliment you on your outstanding knowledge of the Fathers!” “Yes,” the curé triumphed, “they are my constant reading and they are infinitely more instructive than the rubbish our bishops send us!”

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