Do Not Prevent Them

[Homily: Evening Mass, Jesuit Villa, Mirador Hill, 23 May 2018, based on Mark 9:38-40)]

Mirador Homily 2018

In our Gospel, there was someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name. He was driving out demons. The disciples tried to prevent him.

He was freeing a person of an oppressive spirit that made him harm himself and harm others. And the disciples tried to prevent him.

In Jesus’ name, he was doing good. He was doing good.. And the disciples tried to prevent him.

Later they reported this to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mk. 9:38).

Jesus’ reply was: “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” (Mk. 9:39). Do not prevent him.

The disciples were looking at the situation from the lens of their own in-group, and the power and privileges that they considered the prerogative of their group alone. To act in Jesus’ name, to help others in Jesus’ name: this was their turf, they felt.

“In Jesus’ Name” privileged them.

Therefore, there was an instinct in the disciples that needed to prevent this unlikely exorcist from doing good. . . “because he does not follow us,” the disciples explained. He does not follow us: he does not do things the way we do. He is different. Because he is not part of our community. Because he has a source of power that we do not know, that we do not control.

Jesus replied: “Do not prevent him. Let others do good in my name.” Considering that Jesus’ focus was not the power, prerogatives and privileges of his followers, but the person himself being finally freed of a demon, his position was: “let others do good to people.”

“…Other people may be different from us. Do not prevent them from doing good, because when they do good, I know they do so ultimately through the power of my Father. “

Our Gospel story may invite us to reflect on “the other” in our lives. How sometimes there is a tendency in our lives to “other” people who are different, who do not do things the way we expect them to do things, who experience good and do good beyond the limitations of our thinking, and even outside the boundaries of our imagination. In “othering” them, we tend to want to stop them from doing what they do, because what they do or how they do it do not fit in our categories, compete with us, are beyond the control, regulation and comprehension of our “in group”, and so make us uncomfortable. They are not the same as us, so even in doing the good that they do, they should be prevented…

We are often uncomfortable that other people are different. I was once in Indonesia with a Muslim friend, Mussolini Lidasan, participating in a conference on inter-religious dialogue. In discussing the Pancasila, the state philosophy through which Indonesia has for a long time been able to integrate different religions into their State, a participant made the declaration, “God created us diverse.” It was a formulation which I’d not heard before, and so, being schooled more in the tradition of “Outside of the Church there is no salvation,” I found the formulation jarring. But I think the Gospel of today might also be pointing in this direction. God created us diverse. So for as long as religions are doing good to the human being, freeing human beings of their many demons, their demons to worship falsely, to live godless, immodest lives, to live inhumane, deprived and oppressed lives, do not prevent them. As Vatican II pointed out, it belongs to the inviolable dignity of the human person to find and serve God as led by the light of his or her conscience.

We should certainly not prevent them from doing the good that they do because we in our in-group are threatened.   The devout Muslims believe in one God and his prophet. They pray five times a day. They give alms to the poor. They make a pilgrimage in the course of their lives to Mecca. During the month of Ramadan, they fast from dawn to dusk.   That may be threatening to us who practically regard money, organization, rationality and power in our everyday considerations as more effective than God, or to us who have difficulty praying even once a day, or to us who feel exempt from giving alms to the poor, or to us who consider pilgrimages as passé or at best only as occasions for free vacations, or to us who never fast or who can never skip a meal. Some of us may feel uncomfortable every time a Muslim praises God in Arabic whenever he stands up to say something in public. But I think even in our day and age, Jesus, who is one with his Father, may be saying “Do not prevent them. They may even be a divine Word addressed to you.”

As the political situation in the Philippines seems to indicate that the Bangsamoro Basic Law may be passed, our Gospel also may be inviting us to consider how over the centuries Christianity has “othered” the Muslim of Mindanao in his or her fidelity to Islam. When we said, “outside of the Church there is no salvation,” we often did so saying, “outside of the Church there is no true humanity.” And since from the vantage point of the Catholic Spanish conqueror or the Protestant American conqueror, all good Filipinos docile to the conqueror were Christian, it was easy to say, “Outside of Christianity there is no true Filipino.” “Muslims are not genuine Filipinos. Christians are.” “At best, Muslims are second-class Filipinos.” Today, finally – hopefully – as a nation and as a Church, we may be ready to hear Jesus’ words in a new light, “Do not prevent them…”

As Atong shared last night, this is really not easy, especially for those of us who grew up in Mindanao. The wounds of wars among Filipinos in Mindanao, caused by people from the north, cut very deep. Many of those wounds are still open and the cause of the prejudices and biases that we are only slowly beginning to admit. Families were torn apart by these wars, and relatives and loved ones were killed. If you talk to Ogie, who grew up in Cotabato City, this is not something that can be solved on the level of peace panels and political declarations. Nor on the level of conceptual clarifications and strident appeals. It needs to be solved on the ground, on the level of shared face-to-face relationships and shared projects, where peoples of different faiths re-discover their shared humanity, and peoples of diverse religions discover together God’s Spirit of reconciliation and peace.

During the last supper, Jesus prayed for us who’ve received his Word. And he prayed for those who through us would hear his Word. He prayed that his joy might be in us and his joy might be complete. That joy we claim during this villa, as we appreciate a renewed Mirador, renew old friendships in our batch and institutional outings, lose all our money to red-dog “memories,” and enjoy Vil-Ma’s good life of sumptuous international cuisines and of rich and diverse Jesuit relationships.

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But that joy we also claim as we journey together on our Road to Mindanao, which starts really from deep desires within, as from within we listen to the heart-enflaming words of this Stranger-Companion who seems so “other” talking to us as we journey onwards, but whom we finally recognize here this evening in the Breaking of the Bread (cf. Lk. 24:13-35).

For whoever is not against us, is for us.

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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