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“At that time, John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘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. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward’” (Mark 9:38-41).

We are presented in this gospel reading with a contrast between “with Jesus” and “against Jesus.” The passage refers to followers of Christ, people doing works in his name, who were not a part of the inner circle. Jesus responded to his disciples’ doubts by speaking with encouragement of what those “outsiders” were doing.

How often do we become indignant when things aren’t being done the way we would do them or would like them done? Jesus’ statement that it is impossible to both do good deeds in his name and speak ill of God demonstrates how the good fruit of our works reflects the source of that goodness—God.

This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of the importance of our fundamental shared belief in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus’ image of giving and receiving a cup of water in this context is a challenge to ask how we can be more receptive toward other Christians, and how we can be proactive in extending our hand in friendship and sincere dialog to other believers.

In what ways can you be more tolerant of those whose religious beliefs may differ from your own?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“He was teaching his disciples and telling them, ‘The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me’” (Mark 9:31-37).

In our busy lives, we can easily become too caught up in our own concerns and goals. We may face the pressure to be the “greatest” in whatever we do. When we fall short of what we hope to accomplish, we can become disheartened.

This week’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus making a foreboding statement about his future that left his disciples confused and speechless. They seemed to have learned from Peter’s outburst described in last week’s Gospel reading and offered no challenge to this terrible announcement.

But just how little they understood Jesus’ real meaning soon becomes obvious as they started arguing about which of them was the greatest. They got caught up in the idea of being a disciple without having a sense of what true discipleship really means.

Jesus knew the disciples had the capacity to refocus their energy and concern on what was really important instead of promoting themselves as the “greatest” above everyone.

Our accomplishments and accolades, as great as they might be, do not exemplify discipleship. Rather, it’s our ability to be of service to others—to receive and attend to the most vulnerable in our society—that makes us good disciples.

This is a fairly simple message but so difficult to put into practice!

By our selfless giving and sharing of our gifts without expectation of anything in return, we are freed from the trappings of prestige and the need to be “the greatest.”

We can trust that God has called us to discipleship, and that means serving even the “littlest” members of our communities, knowing that being of service to others is what really matters.

When have you reached out to the most vulnerable in your community? How did that encounter change you?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’ He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it’” (Mark 8:31-35).

The disciples were sincere about wanting to follow Jesus, but they failed to understand both who Jesus was and what the demands of being a disciple were, which ultimately meant a willingness to undergo suffering just as Jesus would.

Peter had no problem proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, but he did not seem to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was called to be. How could his beloved leader have to suffer and die?

This passage serves as a reminder of how our understanding of God can’t be limited by our own imaginations. Even if we do recognize that we can’t know the mind of God, we often miss the point by trying to make our lives and others’ conform to our own unrealistic expectations. When do this with respect to God by making God too much in our own image, we put human constraints on God’s work in our lives.

Jesus’ command to deny ourselves is a challenge. While things such as money, food, success, or power may be good in and of themselves, they have the potential to overtake us if we let them dictate how we live. They can prevent us from living the freedom that a life in Christ offers.

We can take assurance from Jesus’ words that by letting go of the attachments we have to our own ways we will gain a better understanding of ourselves, others, and how God is calling us to live.

How has your image of God changed over time? What past experiences or images of God do you need to put aside in order to free you to have a better understanding of who God is?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

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“And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished and they said, ‘He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’” (Mark 7:35-37).

Imagine yourself in this scene. Filled with expectation, and maybe even some fear, you watch Jesus take this man aside and heal him. Think about the emotions you would feel. Most likely, you would want to share this good news with everyone you encountered, despite Jesus’ order not to do so. Such a miracle would make anyone believe in the power of Jesus, right? Then why would Jesus ask everyone to keep it a secret?

Jesus was teaching the crowd a deeper lesson. By telling them to say nothing, Jesus encouraged them (as well as us) to see beyond outside appearances. He didn’t want people to think he was simply a miracle worker. Rather, Jesus wanted the miracles to be signs of who he truly was. Jesus did not want to draw so much attention to his works that the crowd would not be able to understand his true identity as the one who would undergo suffering and death and then rise again.

Just as the crowd asked for healing, we, too, make requests in prayer for certain things: the health of a relative, the mending of a broken relationship, a job opportunity or promotion. Petitions are an important part of our prayer life, but they are not the only part. If this is the only way we communicate with God, we risk reducing God’s status to simply that of a “miracle worker.”

We are invited to look beyond how our petitions may change our situation to how they can change us, whether or not we receive our hoped-for answer.

This story teaches us that moments of experiencing God’s presence, although powerful and joy-filled, should not be ends in themselves. Rather, these moments possess the power to break open our hearts, allowing us to become vessels of healing for others.

When have you experienced healing in your life, or been a witness to someone else’s healing? How did it impact your understanding of the power of God?

Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International

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“So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, ‘Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?’ He responded, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.’

He summoned the crowd again and said to them, ‘Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile’” (Mark 7:5-8, 14-15).

The “tradition of the elders” refers to a set of practices by which Pharisaic teachers meant to help the observant Jew fulfill the law as perfectly as humanly possible. For some, these practices took on the same importance as the law itself, which, in effect, equated these human traditions with the Law that God gave on Mt. Sinai. Jesus’ strong rebuke of the religious leaders served to return the emphasis to God’s Law and refocused the question on inward dispositions and not external practices.

This Gospel challenges us to take a long, hard look at how our actions are connected to what we believe. We attend Sunday Mass, we receive the sacrament of reconciliation regularly, we say the rosary, etc. Sometimes, these practices can become routine. Where are our hearts when we do these things? What is our attitude as we do them? How do we treat our families or neighbors after we pass through the church doors into the outside world?

Jesus reminds us that remembering why we do what we do and to do it with a heart turned toward God are more important than performing all the correct rituals without conviction and intention.

How does this Gospel challenge you?

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

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