26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 27, 2015

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1st reading: Numbers 11.25-29

2nd reading: James 5.1-6

Gospel: Mark 9.38-43, 45, 47-48


By: Father Stéphane Pouliot

“Would that all the Lord’s people were Prophets, and the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)

At the moment when a new group is formed, there is an excitement and a drive to recruit new members itself inspired by a passionate dream. A strong bonding then is forged among them and slowly the inevitable structuration of the group comes with a stronger emphasis on rules to keep the group focused, but with the unintended effect that some people are kept out. When that effect is discovered, some members in the group will attempt to reverse the perverse effect by referring others to the dream which brought the group together in the first place. Some however will begin to fear that new members may actually threaten the very existence of the dream. A struggle will ensue between those advocating for inclusivity and those professing the need for exclusivity.

Being willing to respond appropriately when this short scenario plays itself out in the diversity of our country will lead us to ask Jesus what He wants us to do about it.

Hearing what God has to say leads us to consider the following: we are all called to holiness and the Lord Jesus is calling us not only to be holy individuals, but to become a holy communion of brothers and sisters.

Here the example of Moses allows us to be more concrete. Moses had received a very special outpouring of God’s Spirit on him and his mission was to guide the people through their 40 years of wandering in the desert in order for the people to learn that God was trustworthy and enable them to say yes to the dream of conquering the Promised Land with God’s help.

It would have been possible for Moses to wish to be the only one with the Spirit on him, his authority not shared by anyone else, his existence indispensable to the fulfillment of God’s Promise.

When God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders, Moses could have felt insecure, threatened, and fearful. When given the chance to exclude Eldad and Medad who had not gathered in the tent along with the other sixty-eight elders, Moses could have easily rejoiced that at last he was given the chance to rein in the sharing of his authority. Instead, Moses rejoiced that Eldad and Medad received the spirit outside of the tent where the sixty-eight had been gathered. Furthermore, he wished that every man, woman and child, each a unique member of God’s people, would become a Prophet and that the Lord would put his spirit on each of them. Moses’ heart echoed God’s heart, God’s desire to make of every man, woman and child, a member of His people, a true prophet, inspired by His Spirit.

In the past week, we have contemplated a prophet of God, Pope Francis, in his visit to Cuba and the United States of America. In his address to the US Congress, he said: “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us” (Pope Francis’ address to the US Congress, By Crux Staff, September 24, 2015).

We are called to hear the Spirit of God in those words, for they channel the very words of Jesus: “… give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38). Being called to be prophets of God, inspired by His Spirit, is our identity as baptized members of the Body of Christ. A prophet of God is literally God’s spokesperson. God speaks through that person’s words, and that person’s actions.

God calls whomever He wants to be a prophet, never restricting Himself to a specific profile determined by human beings or religious groups. More than 1200 years after Eldad and Medad found themselves as outsiders in the group of seventy elders assisting Moses, today’s Gospel recalls the story of someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name who is told to stop what he is doing by some of Jesus’ closest disciples. When God’s enemy has deceived a person into giving him authority over his or her life, helping a person to take that authority back and give it to Jesus is clearly an extension of the prophetic calling. Sharing in God’s authority as a prophet leads us to choose right, reject wrong, call forth the true identity of the oppressed person in the name of Jesus and thereby expulse the lies and corruption threatening to snuff out the person’s true identity. Hence why casting out demons in Jesus’ name while not yet following His group of disciples is not something which Jesus desires to stop.

Jesus is very clear about this: “… no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us (Mark 9:39-40).” Jesus then proceeds to tell John and the rest of us listening today not to be a stumbling block for those who believe in Him. We can get in the way of someone’s conversion and ongoing integration of God’s personal and universal call for that person to become a saint, God’s spokesperson, His prophet. How can we get in the way?

We can look down on the person who does not have his or her act together but has begun tentatively to pray. We can wish that only the most reverent would make it to Mass. We can stand in the way of someone getting involved appropriately in a good cause, because their past may lead others to withdraw their support. Most of all, we can get in the way by being blind to our own need to repent from our own incoherent behaviour while enforcing the rules for everyone else.

These days, our decision to sponsor a family from Burundi stands as a prophetic act. Our willingness to lend our individual support to our parish decision heeds saint James’ warning not to live on this earth in luxury and in pleasure (cf. James 5:5). Indeed, echoing the words of our Pope to the Joint Session of the US Congress, let us remember that “we, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners…” May we, before the suffering of refugees, “respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal…” Moreover Pope Francis told us just a few days ago that, “our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War…” “We must not be taken aback by their numbers”, the Pope tells us, “but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation…” He also adds: “We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12)” (All excerpts are from Pope Francis’ address to the US Congress, By Crux Staff, September 24, 2015). May we always remember to give security, life and opportunities to others, since we ourselves desire those very goods in our lives.