TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2018)
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”, says our first reading from the Book of Numbers. Yes, wouldn’t that be a very good thing. If we truly recognized the seriousness of following in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, and being called Christian, we might find ourselves exercising more frequently the prophetic role bestowed on us at baptism. Our world is in desperate need of men and women with the energy, courage, integrity, and boldness to stand up for what is right. Ever since Vatican II we have been keenly aware that the Lord did “bestow his spirit on them all,” and that Spirit should enable all to give witness to what is good and just.
The liturgy today reminds us that God’s ways are not man’s ways. God hears Moses’ request for help in the Book of Numbers and calls seventy elders to assist him. But two people, Eldad and Medad, did not attend the confirmation ceremony in the tent as the others did, but they still presumed to give witness to God. Joshua finds this unacceptable, rules are rules, and he asks Moses to stop them from prophesying. Moses recognizes the jealousy at the root of Joshua’s protest, and Moses makes no effort to restrain Eldad and Medad from prophesying.
In a similar way, the apostle John, in our gospel reading from Mark, wants Jesus to stop people who are not part of the Twelve from driving out demons. If we give John the benefit of the doubt, we might imagine that he is concerned about the authenticity of exorcisms not performed by the Twelve, after all Jesus specifically gave that power to them (see Mark 3:14f.). Recognizing the human condition, and acknowledging that John was arguing about who would be the most important in Jesus’ kingdom just a few short chapters ago, it is more likely that John was just trying to protect his own privilege and status. John, no doubt, believed that only a select few were chosen and entrusted with the responsibility of building up God’s kingdom. Jesus sees things differently: “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.”
The Spirit blows where it wills, and the Spirit that descended at Pentecost was not exclusively bestowed on the apostles. Rather, the Spirit has been shared with all the people of God, “from every nation under heaven” (see Acts 2:5ff.). God can and will work wonders through the most unexpected and unlikely people. We make an egregious error if we think we can identify the type of person God exclusively deals with. Ours is not to be concerned about who is worthy of preaching the gospel. We are meant only to be worried about whether we are leading lives worthy of our calling as disciples of Christ.
If Jesus is viewed as tolerant of outsiders, as we also should be, he is less tolerant of those who cause “one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,” to stumble, to be scandalized. Note that the sin of the one who causes another to sin is the greater sin for Jesus. He suggests that such a person should have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea. With similar hyperbolic language, not meant to be taken literally, Jesus states “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” Jesus does not intend anyone to start severing their limbs, especially since he has already taught us that it’s what’s inside that makes a person unclean. Rather, Jesus wants us to be intolerant of allowing sin to take hold in our lives and in the life of the Body of Christ. Under no circumstances can believers in Jesus harm the body or the spirit of another, and if or when it does happen it must be corrected and the cause of the scandal corrected. The words of Jesus are especially sobering given that we live in an era when the abuse of young people by Bishops and priests alike is so painfully apparent.
As we said at the start, “would that all the people of the Lord were prophets”! Our world needs us to be faithful to our baptismal commitment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to live our lives as Jesus lived His life, and to preach and teach as Jesus taught when He walked the face of this same earth. By being faithful we will share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus, and give witness to a world in need of examples of justice, love, compassion, tolerance, kindness, mercy, humility, and the peace that only God can give. May we courageously and boldly be the prophets that we have been called to be. May we be “other Christs” that prophetically challenge a world in need of challenge.