Reflection for Sunday September 27 – Fr. Paul English, CSB
Numbers 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Today’s absolutely rich scripture lessons lead me to one thought: How easy it is to jump right into the argument about who has the right to be officially considered a prophet or a fellow-worker with Jesus and who is excluded.
It’s a credentials dispute. We set up “sides,” like at a high school football game where everyone who sits on “that” side of the field is a hated rival with suspect morals and everyone who sits on “this” side is a superior human being in all aspects. Look around! We divide ourselves up along these harsh lines in many aspects of our life as a human family. This divisive thinking and acting finds its way, sadly, into our faith lives too, doesn’t it?
But let’s take a step back, way back: Since the beginning of time God has been trying to communicate with the human family, to help us become aware of God’s love and beautiful plan for us—for our good, everybody’s good, no elites, no outcasts. A loving plan is for all the human family.
The story of the Hebrew Scriptures is the long-form version of this very message. Of course, our human capacity for understanding is limited and we don’t always receive or interpret the message quite as it is intended.
Take the Israelite community in today’s first reading. The great gift here is that God has bestowed the ability to prophecy on a large number of people! And what a gift it is: to know just how much God loves the people, for the prophets to love the people themselves and to speak from out of that great love a word that will help them recognize their own dignity as children of so great a God.
From there, prophets can call the people to right living, right relationship, to honor God with their very lives—and experience the joyful blessing of a life well-lived. This isn’t so much a privilege as it is a MIRACLE! God speaking through imperfect beings!
Still, rather than embracing this miracle of grace, the 70 who gather in one place presume that the blessing belongs exclusively to them. But God, being bigger, also had poured out the spirit of prophecy on Eldad and Medad who aren’t with the other 70 and lo’ and behold, they prophecy too! And doesn’t that drive the 70, who by now are identifying themselves as the élite, mad that those who don’t fit their élite criteria are able to use the same gifts! Thus, in full protect-my-status mode, they complain bitterly to Moses, who fortunately is having nothing of their petty divisions. Instead, he harkens back, way back to God’s desire saying, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
Saint Mark finds an amazingly similar situation—and a lesson the disciples of Jesus need to learn if they truly are to follow Him. Seeing someone driving out demons in Jesus’s name, they report, “we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Mark was a man of few words but you can imagine how the conversation must have continued: “Lord, we’re the élites. These interlopers are stealing our fame and our élite privileges. This must stop (or we won’t be special anymore)!” Jesus, ever the teacher, says: “No, we shouldn’t stop them. Look, it’s not about you. It’s never about you! Remember my Father’s love for everyone, remember that plan for all God’s children.”
But Jesus cuts through to an even more crucial concern: How does all this pettiness on the part of those who so publicly profess faith affect people who have a fragile, tenuous hold on a relationship with God?
Jesus uses strong, biblical language to make clear that if our actions sour that relationship and they turn away from God because of our pettiness or our treatment of them, we will have caused a grave evil—tearing the divine/human fabric, leaving a hole in Creation itself! So, Jesus says, take heed of how you treat others: your demeanor, your motivations, your purpose. And what does not lead to the unity of those souls with God, tear it out, eradicate it! Even if it’s your wealth, your social status, your livelihood.
Once again, God places a choice before us. James tells us that the wealth, influence and power any of us gains by larceny from vulnerable workers will dissolve and its corrosion will destroy us. It’s a time of reckoning and of decision-making. For keeping God’s loving plan front and center. It’s not about us!
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