The Gospel reading of today consists of two unconnected catechetical teachings, the first on exorcisms, the second on scandal. The early Church often faced the problem of exorcisms: what to do when non-disciples used Jesus’s name to cast out devils? Should they be permitted, or should they be stopped? In Acts of the Apostles we read of ‘others’, some of them sorcerers, using the name of Jesus to cast out devils, and how the apostles firmly opposed such doings. Jesus, it seems, is more tolerant. After all, Jesus’s Father makes the sun shine and the rain fall on good and evil alike. If there is even a minimal faith in “the name of Jesus”, then this little faith will be rewarded – even if a cup of water is given to an enemy because of Jesus’s sake. For no one who intends good in the name of Jesus can be at the same time hostile to the Lord and his works. The second teaching is on scandal, and is couched in terms of hyperbole. Possibly this teaching came to prominence during the first persecutions, when the faith of many was tested, and some at least went back on their professed word. For Jesus, such betrayal of trust is deserving of the severest punishment: “a millstone tied around his neck, and the man thrown into the sea.” Just as staunch witnessing to the faith encourages the weaker members of the community, so betrayal of the faith becomes a ‘stumbling block’ – the original meaning of ‘scandal’. If one is led astray by some part of one’s body, it is better to have that limb cut off and thrown into hell fire, than risk condemnation because of it. Both these sayings of Jesus are related to practical issues in the early Church. In searching for “what would Jesus have said or done”, the disciples looked for sayings or actions from Jesus’s life which would serve as a guide. We can do the same today.
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