Twenty Sixth Sunday of the Year September 27, 2009

Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48

We are all called to be prophets. We are invited to announce the good news of God’s deep love for each one of us.  It is indeed important that we manifest this call in our behavior and daily activities and more importantly through our words. The first reading of today taken from the Book of Numbers provides insight into the working of  God’s spirit through us.  The reading highlights our tendency to try to define clearly who is a prophet and who can speak on behalf of God.  Yet the suggestion in the Book of Numbers and the Gospel of Mark is that our actions that are meaningful and not whether we belong to or part of an inner circle or a privileged place.  We all are living in a world where the rich and the famous persons are  described as Blessed and Special.  Yet the letter of James tells us just the opposite.  Any person who has the riches are to use them for the benefit of others.  When we examine the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel we realize that our actions are more important than a simple claim to follow Jesus.  As the followers of Jesus we are to bring blessings and privileges to others. The life and love we receive from God is intimately connected to our call to be prophets and members of the body of Christ. Today’s readings emphasize the necessity to do the works of the Lord in order to remain filled with the Holy Spirit. The two men who prophesied were filled with the Holy Spirit. The man who cast out the demons was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Numbers opens our eyes to the fact that the position of God’s people in the days of the Old Testament. This tells us of the fact that exists today of the religious elitism.  This is a  temptation to show that we are better than others. In the story of the Chosen people, God tells Moses to bring together seventy of the elders of the people to share the burden of the people along with him and Moses would not bear it by himself. They would share the responsibility with him.  They would be God’s representative on earth and certainly assist in the ministry of leading the people to the promised land. Secondly, the reading tells us that among the seventy who were registered, Eldad and Medad stayed behind in the camp and prophesied. When Joshua, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, saw this, he reported it to Moses. Moses responds to him, and says not to be jealous for his sake and he wished that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit in them. The point of importance is that two persons remained in the tent and they continued to do the work of the Lord.

During the Second Reading from The Letter of James, we heard that the rich people should weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to them. They spend their lives accumulating wealth. Every moment of the day, their minds are set on and obsessed with this worldly desire how to make more money. The devil is leading them towards the path of golden coins, surely not towards the golden path of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. When one becomes obsessed with money, he cuts corners. If he is a contractor, he will build with low grade material. If he is a retailer, he will pay minimum wages to his employees. If he is dishonest, he will cheat them of their wages. Through these means, he grows in fame, luxury, human knowledge of investments and all the goodies that come with wealth. But in the end, they will have nothing!  Their misdeeds will call upon destruction upon themselves.  All their wealth and the money they made will not stand for them in the moment of need.

The Gospel of today starts with the complaint against a person who was not a disciple and yet could work miracles in the name of Jesus.  John who belonged to the inner circle tells Jesus how they tried to stop him and point out to him that they alone are the chosen ones and not he.  Jesus also had sent the disciples on a mission where they had worked the miracles and had healed the people and cast out devils.  They had received the praises for their good work.  Not only did enjoy some reflected glory in being disciples of Jesus but, through his authority, they themselves were doing some of the very same things. They would have been growing in popularity and public exposure and it looked very much that they were slowly getting into a streak of vanity and arrogance. They could feel that their privileged position is no more secure. That person who was not of their group “casting out devils”. And not just driving out evil spirits but doing so in the name of Jesus. So they tried to put a stop to him. Here we carefully listen to the reply of Jesus: “You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is not likely to speak evil of me.” The man in question was clearly not only using the name of Jesus, he was also producing results. He was successful in his exorcisms and people were being made free.

At this juncture Jesus explains to them who can be his disciple. There can be a silent disciple and also an active disciple, indicating that salvation is always universal. It belongs to everyone and we must take note of it: “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” God can and does use anyone to do his work. The Church has no monopoly on God’s work or on God’s truth or on God’s love or on God’s power to heal and reconcile. The work of the Kingdom is not confined only to the baptised, although it is certainly their special work.  Outside of the Catholic Church there are thousands who are doing the work of God in a spirit of total sincerity and commitment. Some of them are Christians of other denominations; some are Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims or animists; some are atheists or agnostics or secular humanists or nothing in particular. Wherever we see God’s work being done we should give our support and be ready to work together with such people. The great Charles de Foucauld had this spirit as did Mother Teresa and they could see the presence of God everywhere.

Here we ought to keep in mind that our Christian faith is essentially apostolic. It is of its essence that the Good News about Jesus be widely proclaimed in the most public places. And this is a responsibility not just of a few leaders in the church but of every single baptised person.  So Jesus also tells us today: “If anyone gives you a cup of water to drink just because you belong to Christ, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward.” He emphasizes on the word “anyone” indicating that it is the responsibility of all to serve and do his work.. Such an act, simple though it is, done by “anyone” in a spirit of love and compassion is a truly Christ-like act and Jesus says he will recognise it.

After this Jesus gives the words of warning. They are addressed to all and more specially to those baptized.  “Anyone who is an obstacle to bring down one of these little ones who have faith would be better thrown into the sea with a great millstone round his neck.” The word ‘obstacle’ here used can easily be translated as ‘scandal’. The Greek word means something that trips a person and causes him to fall. Jesus is saying that it is an absolutely terrible thing to be the cause of a person being led astray and away from Christ and the Gospel. He refers particularly to the “little ones”. These are not just children but also the weakest members of the community: weak perhaps because of their young age, or their lack of learning, ordinary people, simple or those with low position in society, or those being morally weak and are easily misled.

It would be possible for a person who is strong in the faith to behave in such a way that a weaker member would be seriously harmed in his following of Christ. St Paul was very much aware of that and said “With the weak I am weak. He was particularly sensitive about how he behaved with new converts, especially converts from Judaism. With such people he would not do certain things which would shock or make them feel uncomfortable even though he personally knew it was perfectly correct to behave in that way. We can scandalise people by our highly un-Christian behavior by living a double standard life not practicing what we preach. This can happen between parents and children, between teachers and students, between priests and laity. We can also give scandal when we are over-demanding and judgmental of those who are still struggling to reach a level of commitment. We do not offer a helping hand but instead criticize them.

The last part of the Gospel tells us be aware of how we can become a stumbling block to ourselves: Let our hands, feet and eyes not be guilty of the terrible abuses, the truly scandalous behavior. “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell.” We all know our human weaknesses and tendencies. Knowing them, by the grace of God we should apply our spiritual minds to overcome such weaknesses and tendencies. We should avoid what causes us to sin. We should run away from those opportunities that seek to destroy our souls. It is the sin of being judgmental that ruins us. Let us reflect upon our position towards the Lord Jesus and His Church that He has instituted on earth.  We seek with all our souls, our minds, our bodies and our strength to humbly serve and obey the Lord Jesus in the Body of Christ by shining as a light in the world, and enjoy the hope that leads to eternal joy and peace in the Kingdom of God.

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