These last few words are read in many of the Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and sometimes people mistakenly think that they are intended by our Lord to minimize devotion to His Mother. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth -- but He is saying that no bond of physical relationship -- even being related to the Son of God or to His Mother -- is important when compared with doing the will of God. And we know the will of God through His "word" -- what He Himself has revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition.
But our Lord's emphasis today is to remind us not only that we must keep the word of God, but that we must align ourselves only with people who do the same. Just like the devils who stand together and do not cast each other out -- just like the strong men who arm themselves to guard their property -- it makes no sense to try to keep the word of God one's self, while making alliances with those who have little or no respect for God. It makes no sense to keep the Commandments and say your prayers and come to Mass on Sunday if you spend the remainder of your time assisting robbers and thieves, or adulterers, or idolaters, or any of the other classes of people who habitually and willfully violate God's laws.
Living in the modern world, we often hear of "compromise" as a good thing. The modern wisdom is that "everyone ought to get along" -- and often enough that can only be done by trading off things that appear to be of lesser importance in exchange for those that are most important. But all too often this spirit of compromise goes far beyond the reasonable cooperation necessary to get through the affairs of life. It is fine for neighbors to agree: "I'll help to paint your house, if you help to fix my roof" -- or for family members to meet each other half way in agreeing where to spend their vacation time -- or even something as mundane as "I'll wash if you'll dry." Society is based on cooperation. It makes a great deal of sense for one man to raise the cattle, another to grow the vegetables, another to be the carpenter, and yet another to be the blacksmith.
But it is an entirely different thing when such mutual aid goes beyond cooperation in doing what is necessary and good, and becomes a compromise of moral principles. When we agree to overlook the willful immorality of another, or worse yet, when we actually cooperate in helping someone else to be immoral, we have gone over a dividing line that really should never be crossed. Sometimes this is very obvious: If, for example, your neighbor asked you to drive the get-away car while he robbed the bank, or asked you to drop him off at his mistress's house, you would not have much trouble in recognizing your responsibility to refuse. It is a lot less obvious -- but perhaps even more evil -- when we empower the leaders of societty to compromise the moral law in our name and with our money.
There should not be such a thing as a Catholic school that teaches sex education, or a Catholic hospital that counsels birth control techniques, let alone facilitates the murder of the unborn. There ought be no taxes paid to plunder the innocent of their lands or their lives. No money ought to be paid to cover up the scandals of the clergy or of civil officials. No church ought to be used for the worship of false gods or to promote the spread of false doctrine.
Our Lord says it very clearly in today's Gospel: "If you are not with me, you are against Me; if you do not gather with Me, you scatter [what I have brought together]." If you throw in your lot with the fornicator, or with the unclean, or with the covetous, or with the idolater, or those who talk foolishness -- you are against Me, rather than with Me -- if you throw in with such people you are scattering My flock, instead of bring it together.
In our personal relations, this means that we should make friends and associate with only those who keep the moral law -- and certainly not with those who will expect us to help them violate it. In our society, we should do our best to know what is going on both in Church and in state -- we should know what our leaders stand for in principle, and what they are doing in fact -- we should seek out every opportunity to influence those leaders to do good and avoid evil; at least with the ballot box and the mail box. Be sure to support good men and let them know that their efforts are appreciated -- for that may be even more important than just telling the bad that we know they are bad.
Finally, the words of this morning's scripture readings must be applied to each one of us, even insofar as we are individuals, apart from society. Remember that even though we live in the world and have to interact daily with other people -- with some good and some not so good -- with some loveable and with some not so loveable -- ultimately, we are responsible for our own salvation. It can be very frustrating, and perhaps even depressing, to find so few allies in this mission of "hearing the word of God and keeping it." It would be nice to go out and change the world, to make it a peaceful place where God is universally honored and His word always kept -- but that may not be possible.
But rather than seeing our isolation as a curse, perhaps we should view it as a victory. And, it can be a victory for those who steadfastly refuse to compromise the word of God for the ways of the world -- even if that is what "everybody's doing." There is a proverb that I heard years ago -- it was said to come from Nigeria, in Africa, where there was a very small, very persecuted, but very staunch Catholic minority. The proverb is simply this:
"When even one stands with God, he is in the majority."