(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, the apostle John comes to Jesus with a strange story.
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.”
The story is simple. John and some others see a person getting rid of evil lying within other people. While doing this, the person uses Jesus' name. That does not mean that the person is pretending to be Jesus, but that he says he casts out demons under Jesus' authority, with Jesus' power. John and the others try to prevent the person from doing this because this person does not follow them.
For what reason does John tell this story to Jesus? We wonder what he hopes will happen next.
John says they tried to stop the man which indicates that they were not successful. Maybe he wants Jesus to go and finish what they started. It almost sounds like John is tattling on this person. Maybe he wants the man to get in trouble, to get what's coming to him.
Maybe John just wants Jesus to know how they stuck up for him and hopes Jesus will praise him and the others for their good efforts. It almost sounds like John is proud of what they did. Maybe he wants a reward, to get what's coming to him.
Perhaps considering these reasons is not being kind to John. It is possible that this encounter simply has upset him and he wants to know what Jesus thinks of it. We do not know because we cannot see into his heart.
We notice, though, that John says the person does not follow "us." Where does John think that person should be? Behind him and the others. John and the other apostles already follow Jesus. John and the other apostles have been here since the start. They do not know this person. He is not one of them. How can this person just start casting out demons in Jesus' name without following them first?
“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 uses his name to cast out evil. If the person is able to use this power, if he is able to cast out demons, it can only be because God allows it. If God allows it, should John and the others try to prevent it?
But Jesus knows something more. When the person chooses to perform a deed of power in Jesus' name, it causes a change. Soon afterwards, Jesus says, the person will not be able to speak evil of him. Using Jesus' name has a power of its own. The person is transformed. The person becomes one of them.
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.
The name of Christ has a power of its own. Whoever gives drink to the thirsty is being more than just kind. They are being merciful. This is the work of Christ. When we are thirsty—we who bear the name of Christ, we who call ourselves Christians—we give the world an opportunity to show great mercy. Whoever—sinner or saint, enemy or friend—who performs an act of great mercy will get what is coming to them.
Jesus now issues a warning:
“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.
He is very clear to the apostles. This is not about following them, believing in them. They are not to make it difficult for someone to follow Jesus, to believe in Jesus.
Who decides who gets to follow Jesus? The apostles? Us? If someone wants to follow Jesus, it is only because God wills it. If God wills it, should the apostles or any of us try to prevent it? The name of Jesus has a power of its own.
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.
First Jesus tells the apostles not to make it difficult for others to follow Jesus; now, who is he talking about? Your hand, your foot, your eye. He is asking the apostles to look at themselves. What is making it difficult for them to follow Jesus? He shifts their focus.
Jesus shifts the discussion about stumbling, away from others onto ourselves. We cannot look into someone else's heart, but we can look into our own. Jesus asks us to consider the things that cause us to stumble. If we were discussing following a hiking guide, things that cause us to stumble might be rocks, or fallen logs, or uneven ground. When we speak about following Jesus, what are the things that cause us to stumble?
Why does Jesus say our hand, our foot, our eye? All of these parts of ourselves are important to us. We do not want to lose them. All of these parts are under the control of our mind and our heart. All of these affect our soul.
Sometimes our heart and our mind make choices that cause us to stumble. Sometimes they are choices that are important to us. Our mind is convinced our choices are perfectly fine. Our heart is certain that we are in the right. We are sure that we can both bear the name of Christ and do just as we please.
And sometimes we realize that we are wrong.
That we have stumbled.
That we have come to a halt and this has affected our soul.
If we have come to this realization, it can only be because God calls us to return.
If God calls us, should anyone try to prevent us returning?
We head to the sacrament of Reconciliation. We cannot remove stumbling blocks all on our own.
We call upon the name of Jesus. The name of Jesus has a power of its own.