By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 30th September , 2018
Preached at The Parish of St Ninian & St Chad.
106 Rookwood Street, Mount Lawley, Perth.
Today’s readings seem to be making the point that those who are not against us are for us.
Moses had brought God’s people out of Egypt but they soon began to whinge when they were in the wilderness. They had been freed from slavery but still thought like slaves. They didn’t take responsibility for themselves, so if anything went wrong, it was Moses’ fault. Moses collected 70 leaders together outside their camp, but only 68 turned up, 2 stayed inside the camp. Moses’ intention was to delegate some leadership tasks and ask God to bless them. God’s Spirit comes on them including the two inside the camp, Joshua is not happy about this, but Moses wisely says that God’s blessings are given by him to whom, when and where he wills.
In Jesus’ time, pagans and Jews performed exorcisms, often doing so in the name of some powerful person. It seems that a Jewish exorcist was using Jesus’ name to drive out evil, and the apostle John wasn’t happy about this. He was distinguishing between insiders and outsiders but Jesus doesn’t condone that, because if good comes from using Jesus’ name, the one who invokes Jesus won’t condemn Jesus. Jesus wasn’t in favour of what we might call ‘closed shop spirituality.’ He says that anyone, believers or not, who show compassion to one of his disciples will be rewarded, and anyone who causes one of his disciples to be led astray from true discipleship, will be punished, and that punishment will be worse than punishment of death by drowning used by the Romans.
This is a strong warning to those Christian disciples who think they are the true believers. They are in danger of becoming outsiders by their treatment of other believers or through being self-indulgent.
Yet we must be careful, Jesus is not saying that we must accept everyone whatever they believe, teach or live. He is not saying we must be tolerant of false teaching in the Church or accepting behaviour that is contrary to God’s teaching. He is saying that God’s love and Spirit are not restricted in ways we may think they should be. What we disciples must do is ensure that we follow Jesus and be prepared to cut-off anything or anyone that causes us to stray from the way of Christ. In Jesus’ time and even now in some Sharia law countries, amputation of hand, foot or even eyes are punishments for some offences. This is considered to be more merciful than imposing a death sentence. This is perhaps why Jesus says it is better to enter eternal life crippled than not at all. Opponents of the gospel are warned that the punishment that awaits them is worse than the loss of life. Jesus talks about Gehenna,
which was a valley outside Jerusalem where human sacrifices were offered to the pagan god Moloch in times past. When that practice ceased, the valley became a rubbish dump where fires burned continually. Disowning one’s life and cutting out what causes us to sin is the only way to find eternal life. The opposite is not eternal punishment in the fires of hell, but to cease to exist, cut off from God.
Jesus was very aware of the spiritual war between good and evil, between serving self and one’s own interests, and serving God and the good of others. Our age is quite like that world. It is a world which is multi-cultural, multi-religious and predominately pagan. The Church has no power over or influence on the State, and is no longer treated with respect by the majority of the people.
Western governments embrace a culture of death by passing legislation which devalues life. The predominant ethic of our time is to serve self no matter what the consequences for others and society at large might be.
In a similar culture the first Christians had to learn how to live without power, yet to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus. How they lived was in stark contrast to the world’s norms. It is the same for us. Those who are not for us are against us, so let us be beacons of light for those who are not against us so they might be more fully with us.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.