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Posted by on Sep 27, 2009

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…”

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…”

Sharing water

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark (Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B) is one of the more challenging ones. Jesus’ disciples have been struggling to figure out what it really means to be great in the Kingdom, to be a follower of Jesus, and what kind of exclusivity pertains to their role as His followers. John tells Jesus that someone who is not one of their group is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus’ followers are trying to get the man to stop doing it – he’s not authorized to use the power – almost as if it were under trademark protection or something. Jesus assures them that anyone not actively against them is for them, so it’s OK for the other person to cast out demons using Jesus’ name (a term also meaning power and authority). He continues, “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.” (Mk 9:41)

The reading goes on to include Jesus’ teachings about removing things from our lives that get in the way of a free, loving  response to God’s presence and call  in our lives. It’s very dramatic in its images – plucking out an eye, or cutting off a hand or foot! But sometimes those physical actions might actually be easier than the spiritual work that is really required. Forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply, trusting again, giving freely of our time, talents and treasure when those gifts were not accepted graciously the last time we offered them, moving forward in faith when danger is all around and there seems no way that good can prevail… All in all, a couple of challenging passages.

Yet this year, the twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time coincides with the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.  And that has been on my mind all day today. Here was a man who took to heart the teaching that whatever is given to someone who belongs to Christ is given to Christ. Furthermore, he truly believed that whatever was given to the least of God’s children, was given to Christ. And he set about organizing groups of people, to care for those “children” of God, as well as working with political and religious leaders to change social and religious structures of oppression.

The work goes on today, some four hundred years after the time St. Vincent de Paul began his work. There are still oppressive social structures. People still struggle to survive. Many in the world go to bed hungry after spending all day hungry as well. Health care is not guaranteed to all. Education is not available to all children. Decent housing and clothing are not assured to all, even in the United States, the richest, most powerful nation in the world.

Still, we have Jesus’ promise and reassurance. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ … will surely not lose his reward.” May we also be ones who give that cup of water to drink to others who belong to Christ, in all the beautiful and all the distressing forms in which they come to us.

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Posted by on Apr 24, 2008

“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…”

St. Mark the Evangelist – Following the Lord’s Call Doesn’t Always Happen the Way Others Expect


St. Mark was a young man in the earliest days of the church and by the end of his life had played an important role in spreading the Good News of Jesus in Asia and North Africa. He even touches us as well, through the Gospel which bears his name.

We first hear of Mark in the Acts of the Apostles on the day Peter was released miraculously from prison. Peter returned in the night to the home of Mark’s mother, a gathering place of the community in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12).

Mark may have been the young man in the Garden of Gethsemane who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested, but the young man is not named, so we don’t know for sure (Mark 14:50-52).

Later we hear of Mark traveling with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Early in that journey, Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). No explanation is given for his departure from the mission. Paul was very unhappy about it and later refused to take Mark along on his second journey. As a result, Barnabas did not travel with Paul on the second trip, going instead with Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).

Mark spent many years with Peter. He is mentioned in various contexts in later chapters of Acts and in the first letter of Peter, always in terms of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus.

The thing that really strikes me about Mark, though, is that he didn’t follow the path that had originally been set for him – that first journey with Paul and Barnabas. Something was not right. He left, despite the knowledge that the older adults in the community might not understand and be angry with him, thinking him a failure or a quitter. He returned home to Jerusalem.

If he had not followed that sense (or quiet voice) that told him that going with Paul and Barnabas might be the wrong thing for him to do, it’s entirely possible that Mark would not have been the one to accompany Peter in his work and journeys. The Gospel According to Mark might never have been written. It is generally understood to be the one that tells the story of Jesus based more on the memories of St. Peter. It was most probably the first of the Gospels written, maybe even before 70 A.D. Our understanding of how the early Christians had experienced the life, death and resurrection of Jesus would be different.

As an older adult now, seeing young people struggling to find their way in faith, to find the Lord’s path for them (regardless of how they phrase it), I find great comfort in the story of Mark. It’s OK to change course on one’s life journey, to try one path, find it’s not quite the right one, and move to another one. It’s OK not to follow the career for which one studied – or the one chosen by someone else. It’s OK to ask embarassing questions of leaders in our community. It’s OK to insist on justice and compassion. It’s not only OK, it’s essential to listen to the quiet voice and follow the Lord as He calls each one of us. We are all richer for it.

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