THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – SEPTEMBER 30, 2018

A reading from the Book of Numbers 11:25-29
A reading from the Letter of James 5:1-6
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

As is often the case, this Sunday you will notice a shared theme between the first reading from the Book of Numbers and the gospel reading from Mark.  In each, underlings think their masters, Moses in the first reading, and Jesus in the gospel, are being threatened by unauthorized people exercising charismatic gifts.  Eldad and Medad were not present when God shared the spirit that was on Moses with the seventy elders.  With that spirit, the elders prophesied, that is, uttered messages God wanted the people to hear.  Joshua is scandalized when Eldad and Medad exhibit the same gift of prophecy and wants Moses to silence them.

Joshua seems to think that Moses will be slighted if the people think there is another source for the gifts other than Moses.  Joshua held the trickle down theory to be obvious.  Joshua wanted it to be clear that God gifted Moses.  Through Moses, the seventy elders received the gift of prophecy.  It stopped there.  But Moses sees things differently.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the people gave that evidence of God’s influence in their lives and became prophets?

In the gospel, it is John who is miffed.  The disciples have been out on a mission.  While they were away, they saw someone who was not part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  John had tried to stop him because he thought the man’s actions were scandalous.  He was not known to be a disciple.  But Jesus corrects john by telling him that if someone performs good deeds in Jesus’ name he cannot be against Jesus and his disciples.  He has to be for Jesus.  The fact is that if someone acts kindly toward another because that one belongs to Christ, the benefactor will be rewarded.  Jesus might have told John something similar to what Moses told Joshua: John, wouldn’t it be great if everyone started doing heroic deeds in my name.  Could the Kingdom be far away then?

There are always those who want to control God’s gifts and make it clear that those acting have the blessing of the one in authority.  The actions of those from another group or sect are suspect and not to be encouraged.  By whose authority do you do what you are doing?  Then follows the effort to silence the outsider.  The lesson of Pentecost has not been grasped.  That violent wind and those tongues of fire could not be controlled.  All those caught up in the storm and licked by the fire went out and announced Jesus.  The Spirit blows where the Spirit wills.  The result is that those affected change and bring God’s blessings to those in need.

When starving children are being fed and girls are being rescued from prostitution rings, when medicines and serums are stemming the tides of HIV/AIDS and sleeping sickness, when these good things are happening, there ought to be rejoicing regardless of the source.  Good deeds are signs of God’s working through people to lift up the lowly and embrace all with God’s love.

The gospel text shifts suddenly.  The theme is no longer about those who act righteously; it becomes a warning to those who give scandal and lead others into sin.  It would be better for one to die than scandalize the vulnerable.  It is not clear to whom Jesus is speaking.  He could be talking to the apostles, or the leaders among the disciples, to those in authority.  He could be speaking to the whole community of believers.  Certainly the message applies to anyone who wields authority over others, be they parents or teachers or pastors or political leaders or anyone else who can say to one, do this and he does it.  All should take their authority seriously and take whatever means necessary to avoid giving scandal.

Jesus’ teaching is grim and should elicit a gasp from the hearer.  Cut off your hand, or cut off your foot, or gouge out your eye if it will cause you to sin.  I do not think these words are meant to be taken literally, as I remember they were by a young man on a college campus who cut off his right hand.  The point to be heard is, be willing to take drastic measures to avoid giving scandal.  Remove from your life anything that gets in the way of your being an effective witness to Christ.  Hell awaits those who do not.  That is harsh, I know, but that seems to be what the Lord Jesus is saying.

The second reading from James does not directly relate to the first reading or to the gospel.  We have been listening to James for several weeks now.  This will be the last we will hear from him until we return to these B Cycle Sundays three years from now.  What we hear this Sunday seems particularly apt given the state of the economy and the increasing evidence of the growing chasm separating the 1% wealthy from 99% less endowed and the growing number of impoverished people.  It seems clear what James would say to those presently in charge.

Do not misunderstand.  James is not saying that wealth and finery of themselves are evil.  He would rejoice with those who have if what they have has not become their god, blinding them to the needs of others.  Unfortunately, the so-called entitled can ride roughshod over others and create havoc along the way.  The wealthy that James denounces have gotten where they are by exploiting those beneath them.  They have not paid just wages to the workers or done anything to ease their sufferings.  They lived in luxury and pleasure while others languished in abject want.

Read the finance pages and the scandals covered there and you can put faces on those James excoriates.  The present political climate seems to declare that it doesn’t matter how you get to the top or whom you crush to get there, all that matters is that your make it and keep it.  The poor are poor because they do not work hard enough.  Or worse, are poor because God is punishing them for their sins or their parents’ sins.  On the contrary.  All the victims cry out and James says that the Lord hears.

Those who believe in Jesus need to hear the message and heed the Church’s Social Gospel.  The wealthy have a responsibility to the poor.  Workers have a right to a just wage.  The vulnerable should be shielded and protected.  First World countries have a responsibility to aid Developing countries, or Third World Countries, as they are known.  Pope Paul VI said people do not have a right to excess wealth when there are those who are in dire poverty.  Pope Francis urges a poorer church to serve the needs of the poor.  From his perspective this is so because we belong to one family.  The poor are God’s beloved ones, too.  This is not a message that some want to hear.  But it is one that the Gospel proclaims.  There is much to ponder here, and to pray about.

Where is the answer?  What are we supposed to do?  As Catholic Christians practicing our faith, we come together to celebrate Eucharist.  All about us are signs of our unity with each other in Christ.  We are the Body of Christ called to live the Mystery, to imitate Christ whose Body and Blood we share.  When we take the Cup and drink from it that is a sign of our willingness to be poured out in service for others the way Christ pours himself out for our salvation.  We must become more obviously a servant church and dare to let the implications of our Baptism and our reception of Holy Communion compel us.

Christ welcomed all to his table to the consternation of those in authority.  So must we.  Again, we must hear Francis remind us that God loves all the human family, be they Muslims, Jews, Christians, or atheists.  And every race, both genders, every orientation, the love of God comes to all through Christ our Lord.

Who knows where the Spirit will lead us?  Who knows what changes the Spirit will inspire us to make?  In these days we must pause and pray.  We must plead with God to show us the way.  Fear of hell may be a motivator.  But I believe that the love of Christ is stronger.  Don’t you?

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus.

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