Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 | 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
The Worldly Cycle of Comparisons
After being rebuked by Jesus for arguing who among them was the greatest, the disciples then tried to rank others. Even if none of them were greater than the other, at least as followers of Jesus, they assumed they were greater than others outside of their group, and they wanted to keep their group exclusive. When they saw someone “driving out demons in your [Jesus’s] name,” they “tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (v. 38). But just as before, Jesus stopped them. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me” (v. 39). Jesus may be the Son of God, but He has no intention of pulling any kind of rank.
When good is done in this world, Jesus is at the root of it.
Like the disciples, we all try to pull rank at times by thinking we’re “more Christian” or “more faithful” or that we “try harder” than someone else. The truth is, none of us know what is going on inside of others. We can, and as humans often do, make assumptions, but we can’t know. Furthermore, does it matter? If someone is doing good, Jesus is there, whatever we may think of their faith or effort.
Jesus isn’t interested in comparisons. Comparisons give more weight to our perspective than God’s perspective, and when we start comparing, we focus on ourselves and lose sight of the real reason for doing something. Then we only do to be better than someone else. That doesn’t mean we don’t do good, and in that good, Jesus is there, but it does mean that the good we do doesn’t grow our faith.
The beauty of doing good for the right reasons is that it’s a two-way street.
That good benefits the world, while simultaneously it is beneficial for the doer. Done purely as a way to get ahead, doing good still benefits the world, but the doer loses out. Since the focus is on the individual and not on God, the good act doesn’t help them to grow in their relationship to God.
It’s difficult to shed the worldly cycle of comparisons. I’m particularly good at managing to shake free and wallowing in the freedom only to reclaim the agony and start the whole cycle all over again. But maybe that’s the human condition. Maybe we just get glimpses of what life is like outside of our human constraints, and maybe those glimpses have to be enough to propel us forward and keep us going, knowing that ultimately, life in the kingdom is not as humans envision, but so much better.