Scriptures/Liturgy- Commentary on Sunday's Readings
He that is not against us is for us
Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap, Pontifical Household Preacher
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Nm 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk
9:38-43, 45, 47-48
One of the apostles, John, saw demons cast out in the name of Jesus
by one who did not belong to the circle of disciples and forbade him
to do so. On recounting the incident to the master, he is heard to
reply: "Do not forbid him ... For he that is not against us is for
us" (Mark 9:39, 40).
This is a topic of great current importance. What to think of those
who are outside, who do something good and show signs of the spirit,
yet without believing in Christ and adhering to the Church. Can they
also be saved?
Theology has always admitted the possibility, for God, of saving
some people outside the ordinary ways, which are faith in Christ,
baptism and membership in the Church.
This certainty has been affirmed in the modern age, after geographic
discoveries and increased possibilities of communication among
peoples made it necessary to take note that there are innumerable
people who, through no fault of their own, have never heard the
proclamation of the Gospel, or have heard it in an improper way,
from conquistadors and unscrupulous colonizers that made it quite
difficult to accept.
The Second Vatican Council said that "the Holy Spirit offers
everyone the possibility, in a way known only to God, to be
associated with this paschal mystery of Christ and, therefore, to be
saved" ["Gaudium et Spes," no. 22. Editor's note].
Has our Christian faith changed? No, as long as we continue to
believe two things: First, that Jesus is, objectively and in fact,
the only mediator and savior of the whole human race, and that also
those who do not know him, if they are saved, are saved thanks to
him and his redeeming death. Second, that also those who, still not
belonging to the visible Church, are objectively "oriented" toward
her, form part of that larger Church, known only to God.
In our Gospel passage, Jesus seems to require two things from these
people "outside": that they are not "against" him, that is, that
they do not positively combat the faith and its values, namely, that
they do not willingly place themselves against God.
Second, that, if they are unable to serve and love God, that they at
least serve and love his image, which is man, especially the needy.
It says, in fact, continuing with our passage, still speaking of
those "outside": "whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because
you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward."
However, having clarified the doctrine, I believe it is also
necessary to rectify something more: our interior attitude, our
psychology as believers. One can understand, but not share, the
poorly concealed contrariety of certain believers on seeing every
exclusive privilege fall which is linked to their faith in Christ
and membership in the Church: "Then, of what use is it to be good
We should, on the contrary, rejoice immensely given these new
openings of Catholic theology. To know that our brothers outside of
the Church also have the possibility of being saved: What is there
more liberating and confirming of God's infinite generosity and will
than "that all men be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4)? We should make the
desire of Moses our own as recorded in Sunday's first reading:
"Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all! (Numbers
Knowing this, should we leave everyone in peace in their own
conviction and cease to promote faith in Christ, given that one can
also be saved in other ways? Of course not.
But what we should do is emphasize the positive more than the
negative reason. The negative is: "Believe in Jesus, because whoever
does not believe in him will be eternally condemned"; the positive
reason is: "Believe in Jesus, because it is wonderful to believe in
him, to know him, to have him next to one as savior, in life and in
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