Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Scripture Reflection: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 1, 2006)

Readings for today: Numbers 11:25-29, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-48.

First Reading: Moses brings 68 elders (2 remained behind) to the meeting tent, where God gives to them a portion of the Spirit He bestowed on Moses. Back at the camp, Eldad and Medad, the two elders who were left behind, receive the Spirit as well, and begin to prophesy. Joshua hears of this and says to Moses, "My lord, stop them." Moses is curious if Joshua is jealous for Moses, and replies "Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

Second Reading: James writes harsh words to the worldly rich, admonishing them for storing up material treasures rather than spiritual ones. He pits their mercilessness against the helplessness of the righteous.

Gospel: John warns Jesus about a man driving out demons in Jesus's name, though he does not follow us. Jesus says not to stop those who perform mighty deeds in his name, for whoever is not against us is for us. He even promises a reward to he who serves one who belongs to Christ. Jesus then goes on to preach that one should remove the body part which causes one to sin, and that one who causes a child to sin is committing an even graver sin.

As is often the case, the first reading and the gospel reading are clearly related: in one, Joshua's zeal for Moses causes him to be jealous for the gift given to Moses, and in the other, John's zeal for Jesus causes him to be wary of the gift given to a non-apostle. Joshua feels that Eldad and Medad are doing wrongly by prophesying. Perhaps he feels that Moses is threatened by their new-found gift, or he fears it is not from God. Perhaps he is hurt that they received this gift and he did not, for up to this point in Scripture, Joshua is only mentioned as Moses's aide; even though Joshua accompanies Moses up Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:13) and would be present in the meeting tent with him when all others would leave (Exodus 33:11), he was at best only a witness to Moses's communion with God. We see a similar reaction from John when he tells Jesus about a man exorcising demons in the name of Jesus, even though the man was not "one of them", by which he mostly likely meant an apostle or even a "regular" disciple. Perhaps John is jealous that an "outsider" has the faith in Jesus necessary to perform such deeds.

The response from Moses and the response from Jesus are similar to one another. Moses asks, "Are you jealous for my sake?" He says that he would be pleased if all were prophets, if received the outpouring of the Spirit. Jesus says not to prevent the exorcist from performing his duties, for "whoever is not against us is for us". He even goes so far as to say that anyone who gives even a drink of water to a follower of Christ "will surely not lose his reward". That sounds dangerous, even heretical -- a person who helps a Christian out will not lose his reward? But it is not heresy for at least two reasons: first, it's Jesus Christ, the Word of God, saying it, and second, because the reward is not explicitly named. The reward could simply be the change that comes into that person's life because of the kindness they showed to a Christian... and that change could include the opening of the heart to the message of Christ, leading them to become Christian themselves!

The historical context of the remark is also relevant. In the early church, there was sometimes bitter enmity between Jewish Christians ("natural") and Gentile Christians ("adopted"). This message by Jesus was important in denouncing the rivalry between those who were Christian because they were Jews who believed Jesus was Christ, and those who were Christian because they were converted. This message is presented multiple times in Scripture. In the book of Jonah, God rebukes Jonah for his fierce nationalism in wishing God had not saved Ninevah but rather destroyed it, as God had told Jonah to prophesy. The parable of the workers in the vineyard who receive the same wages, even though some worked all day and others only started work in the afternoon (Matthew 20:1-16, specifically v12). The parable of the prodigal son, in which the elder son is angry at the father for celebrating the return of the younger son (Luke 15:11-32, specifically vv28-30). There is no room for jealousy in the kingdom of God. The "natural" Christians are not any "better" than the "adopted" Christians.

Even the second reading, from the letter of James, fits into the gospel message. James warns the rich of building up (material) treasure for the last days. He uses language similar to Jesus's warning in Matthew 6:19-21, mentioning moth and decay. Jesus tells us to store up spiritual treasures in heaven, not material treasures on earth. The acts Jesus describes in the gospel reading, deeds done in the name of Christ, build up our spiritual treasure. Even the little act of serving water to a thirsty person is worthy of reward from God!

For a commentary on the second half of the gospel reading (on body parts that cause one to sin), see This is a Hard Saying, #1.

Peace be with you, amen.

1 comment:

Laymond said...

Great bible lesson