26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): It Is Better
(Adults, you could begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, one of Jesus' followers, John, is concerned about something he has seen.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
What has John seen? A person casting out demons. What does "casting out demons" mean? This is something that Jesus does in the Gospels. Demons are evil spirits. Demons are anything that is against Jesus, anything that breaks down the Kingdom of God. The opposite of good.
People could pretend to cast out demons. They could be fakers. They might want everyone to look at them, to follow them, to give them power. But this person that John has seen—is he a faker? Is he just pretending? It is possible, but John does not say this. He says he has seen the person casting out demons. Demons are getting cast out. This is good. John is not upset by what the person is doing; he is upset that the person is using Jesus' name to do it.
But Jesus says,
“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.
Jesus is not concerned that the person does not follow. After all, the person is casting out demons! He is casting out those things that are against Jesus. This can only help. His choice to do good in the name of Jesus can only help to build the Kingdom of God.
Jesus knows something more. When the person chooses to do a deed of power in Jesus' name, it does not just help Jesus. It does not just help build the Kingdom of God. It helps the person himself. It changes him. Choosing the good thing changes the person so that soon afterwards, he cannot speak evil of Jesus. Only good.
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.
Look at what the person is doing, Jesus says. Is it good or evil? Casting out demons is good. Giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty is good. If someone who is not a follower of Jesus does a good thing, it is still a good thing, is it not? Does it not help to build the Kingdom of God? Goodness is goodness, and it comes from God.
And goodness changes people.
“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.
This must shock John! He does not want to be thrown into the sea with a stone around his neck! He was only trying to stop the person from using Jesus' name to do things. But Jesus says no. Stopping him from doing good blocks the person from following Jesus. It is a stumbling block. If he stumbles, he cannot follow. He falls behind.
Doing the good thing changes the person. Using Jesus' name changes him. Deep down, he believes. John must not make it difficult for that person to follow Jesus. John must not make that person stumble.
Speaking of stumbling, Jesus says three more shocking things:
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.
What is all this? Cutting off hands and feet, tearing out eyes? What on earth is Jesus talking about? How on earth can anyone follow without a hand or a foot or an eye? Who could walk properly? Without them we would really stumble!
So, is Jesus really talking about removing parts of our bodies? No. What could he mean instead?
What does following Jesus mean? Why is Jesus leading us? He tells us three times:
to enter life
to enter life
to enter the Kingdom of God
Does this mean heaven? Possibly. But heaven is a long way away. It certainly means life with Jesus. Does life with Jesus start only after we die? Are we not already building the Kingdom of God?
The man casting out demons—his goodness removes things against Jesus, his goodness removes stumbling blocks, his goodness builds the Kingdom. He is removing things that cause people to stumble, removing things that break down the Kingdom, removing all the things that keep people away from Jesus. Why? How valuable is the Kingdom of God? How valuable is life with Jesus? Jesus tells John three times:
it is better
it is better
it is better
It sounds like it is the best.
We can think about the things that might cause us to stumble, the choices we make that might break down the Kingdom rather than building it up. When we know what they are, we go the sacrament of Reconciliation.
We do not need a person who casts out demons. We just need Jesus, who removes these stumbling blocks absolutely,
because it is better, it is better, it is so much better,