THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

Numbers 11:25-29

James 5:1-6

Mark 9:38-43, 47-48

I had been lulled to the point of stupor by the droning of the preacher.  Insightless and inane are descriptive words that come to mind.  I was jarred to consciousness when the pastor announced that he had concluded his sermon and now was making an important announcement for the good of the parish.  Beginning with this Sunday, Communion from the Cup would no longer be offered to the Assembly.  It seems the number of Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist that it took to facilitate Communion from the Cup overwhelmed the pastor.  His fear was that with all those ministers about, the people would lose sight of the priest.  Alas, I am not making this up, you know.

It is strange what happens when people in authority become jealous of that authority, frightened lest it wane and become ineffective.  You’ve heard of the Napoleon Complex, I’m sure.  Men of short stature are prone to it and give evidence of their neurosis the more they become the bully.  Little kings want their thrones elevated as if the trappings will mask their inadequacies.

The first reading and the gospel raise the issue for us this week, although in these readings the problem does not reside in the ones in authority, Moses and Jesus, but in those next in command, so to speak.  Moses has put the problem before the Lord and said that the job is too much for one person to carry out.  God’s solution is to take some of the spirit that is on Moses and share it with 70 others.  So, an assembly of the designated elders is called at the Meeting Tent and the spirit is diffused.  Immediately the elders began to prophesy.  It was truly an awesome moment.

Unbeknownst to the assembly, two men who had not come to the Meeting Tent but had remained in the camp experienced the same outpouring of the spirit and began to prophesy, too.  How dare they take upon themselves this role that had been reserved to Moses without his endorsement?  A young man is scandalized and runs to Joshua who, in turn, runs to Moses urging him to silence Eldad and Medad.  Joshua probably saw in these spontaneous prophets a diminishing of Moses’ authority.  After all, Moses hadn’t directed the spirit upon them.

Moses puts the whole situation in proper perspective.  He knew that others’ preaching did not slight him.  His insight was a longing for a prophetic people.  Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!  Would that the Lord would bestow his spirit on them all! Moses wasn’t in the least afraid of being lost in a plethora of prophets.  He was secure in his vocation and mission.

In the gospel, it is John who is scandalized by someone outside the official company of Jesus’ followers.  John had seen the stranger driving out demons in Jesus’ name.  How dare he?  By what authority?  Stop him!  Once again, it is the leader, Jesus, who puts the matter in perspective.  Someone outside the company doing mighty deeds in Jesus’ name does not threaten Jesus who, if the deeds are done in his name, remains the source of the deeds.  And, Jesus says, no matter how great the service or how small, if it is done in Jesus name, the doer will not lose the reward for his action.

Do we believe that the same reward will come to those heroes outside the fold as will come to those within?  Sometimes, on the other hand, the scandal ought to be that the more powerful witness comes from outside rather than from within.  Those outside the fold who work for justice and peace ought not outstrip Catholics in the pursuit of justice and peace.  Rather the fervor of Catholics ought to be stirred.  They ought to see in those outside the company potential comrades in arms.  Mightier in number, through that vast army the will of Christ for the little ones, the disempowered, the poor, will come to pass.

A brilliant turn in the narrative follows.  Jesus turns the tables on John.  You’re scandalized because someone is driving out demons in my name?  Take scandal from the truly scandalous, from the giving of scandal to little ones who believe in Jesus, from those whose words or actions that lead others into sin.  It would be better for them if great millstones were put around their necks and they were thrown into the sea!

Now, let’s go deeper.  What about you, John, gives scandal?  What measure are you willing to take to be rid of that source of scandal?  I remember a sad story from many years ago.  A University of Washington student was found on campus having cut off his right hand and gouged out his right eye.  He had wanted to follow the gospel directive literally.  I don’t think that Jesus is advocating self-mutilation in this dialog with John (and us).  But he is challenging us to go to whatever lengths necessary to divest ourselves of that which is scandalous.  Drug or alcohol or food addiction, sexual addiction, promiscuity, lust, envy or greed, none of these addictions is easily overcome.  Neither are lying or obscene speech.  But each person who claims to be a disciple must commit him or herself to doing what ever it takes to put the addiction into remission in order to walk in the freedom of the children of God and let the love of Christ shine forth.  And that decision can be as gut wrenching as the amputation of one’s own limbs.  The prospect of being thrown into Gehenna where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Put in that perspective, it seems clear that Jesus doesn’t accept many excuses for indecisiveness.

Where do we find the strength?  It seems clear that the strength is found in union with Jesus and in union with the community, the church.  Prayer fosters our union with Jesus, allows him to have dominion in our lives.  Coming together in Eucharist forges the bonds of love that unite the believers with each other and with Christ.  Embracing the weak strengthens all.  The more members of the assembly committed to ministry the stronger the assembly’s witness to Christ and the more apparent it is that Christ is acting through them.

We oughtn’t be angered or feel diminished by another’s effectiveness in prophesying.  Rather, their effectiveness ought to strengthen our own in whatever ministry to which we feel the Spirit’s call.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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