by Erik Ritland
The Word and the Church
Bible commentary following the Catholic Lectionary (which gives an overview of the entire Bible) by the Fully Alive staff
Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
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Mk. 9: 38-40
The letter of St. James is filled with difficult teachings. It’s easy to understand why Martin Luther saw it as lesser than the letters of St. Paul, even if those charges have been unfairly trumped up by some Catholics.
Although difficult, and sometimes not as basic to the faith as the teachings of St. Paul, the letter of James is filled with timeless truth. Each line is as relevant today as when it was written in the first century. At only five chapters it is worth sitting down and reading in one sitting.
In today’s reading James reminds us that our lives are in God’s hands. Although harsh, it’s true that “you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow/you are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears” (4:14). This warning against presumption is also often found in the Psalms:
LORD, let me know my end, the number of my days,
that I may learn how frail I am.
To be sure, you establish the expanse of my days;
indeed, my life is as nothing before you.
Every man is but a breath.
Far from negative or drab, this is a solemn reminder that the loving God is in control of our lives. As James reminds us earlier in this same chapter, as we draw closer to God, God draws closer to us. This intimacy gives us a proper perspective of ourselves that helps us trust God.
The Gospel reading for today is an excellent lesson in ecumenism:
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.”
Instead of condemning those who weren’t “part of the group” Jesus declares that “whoever is not against us is for us.” Similarly, each Christian dispensation – Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, and so on – is doing God’s work in their own way.
That’s not to say that their individual beliefs aren’t important; each hold their beliefs, presumably, because they think that they are true, and this is at the foundation of true faith in many ways. But in a world that is as disordered as ours is, it is now more important than ever to focus less on in-fighting and more on filling the world with the light of Christ.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. He is the lead staff writer and podcast host of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, which features commentary on music, sports, and an intellectual ragbag. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.