Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Numbers 11:25–29
Psalm Psalm 19:8, 10, 12–14
Second Reading James 5:1–6
Gospel Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12–14
The law of the Lordis perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lordare sure,
making wise the simple;
the fear of the Lordis pure,
the ordinances of the Lordare true
and righteous altogether.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Reading the Word
The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lordwould put his spirit on them!”
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48
John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for 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. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.
And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.
Hearing the Word
Today’s liturgy provides three disturbing examples of how God-given gifts can be turned into a deadly privilege for those of God’s servants who jealously guard them as their own.
The first reading features a story of Moses and the seventy elders. Moses, the leader of the chosen people, was overwhelmed by the task of guiding the numerous, and often dissatisfied, Israelites through desert wastelands. He faced constant challenges, and grumbling from the hungry and thirsty crowd. To help him , God appointed seventy elders who would share Moses’ burden. These helpers were to share in Moses’ own prophetic spirit and powers. They would constitute a new leadership group. Today’s passage narrates how God manifested himself in the tent of meeting and transferred some of his Spirit from Moses to these chosen men. This rite took place in the same tent of meeting where God’s presence rested. However, two of the chosen men were not in the tent at the time. They stayed among the ordinary people in the camp. Nevertheless, the Spirit descended also upon them, and they prophesied. One of the chosen men in the tent, young Joshua, upon learning what was happening in the camp, tried to convince Moses to prevent the two men in the camp from prophesying. Apparently, Joshua was jealous about God’s gift of the Spirit. The text suggests that this young man considered God’s gift as an exclusive possession of the members of the group present in the tent. Since the tent was a sacred place, while the camp was filled with ordinary people, Joshua thinks of himself, and the others in the tent, as a privileged, sacred group, with exclusive rights to God’s Spirit and prophecy. Moses demonstrates an entirely different mindset. He desires that all the people should partake in the Spirit, and share God’s gift. There is no privileged access to God, and God’s Spirit knows no boundaries or limits. Moses understood this, and had the good of the entire people in view. Joshua was concerned with preserving his privileged place. Byregarding God’s gifts as his own, and trying to have a monopoly of the Spirit, Joshua was obstructing God’s work and acting as God’s opponent.
The second reading is from the letter of James, where the author warns against the errors of presumption and self-reliance, which lead to disregard for God. Our passage addresses the wealthy land owners, the rich farmers, who think that they have secured their existence by amassing wealth and privilege. James uses irony by calling those who enjoy such security and prosperity to weep and mourn, because of the fate that awaits them. Disaster and destruction are in store for them for two reasons.
Firstly, since they disregard God, and live focused entirely on this present life, eternal condemnation awaits them. Thus, their wealth, fancy clothes, gold and silver, are all in fact rotten and useless objects, and evidence against them in God’s court of justice. Secondly, James indicates that the wealth they gathered is, in fact, a deadly treasure, because it was procured through exploitation and oppression of the farmworkers. God provides the fruits of the earth to feed all people. By grabbing those fruits only for themselves, the wealthy farmers make others suffer deprivation and starve. James uses language parallel to that of the book of Exodus, where the Israelites enslaved in Egypt cry to God, and their cry is heard by God. James also speaks of the cry of the exploited and abused workers which is heard by God. Therefore, like the Egyptian pharaoh drowned in the sea, the exploiters will drown in eternal fire. The food, wealth, privilege and luxury, which they seized and held only for themselves, will turn into a deadly privilege, it will secure their eternal condemnation.
The Gospel reading contains three distinct parts. First, we see the apostle John doing exactly what young Joshua did in the first reading. Apparently, an exorcist was exorcising demons in Jesus’ name. However, he was not one of the twelve disciples. The twelve had previously performed such exorcisms. They somehow became convinced that they were the only ones who should share in Jesus’ miraculous powers, and who have the exclusive right to use them. Consequently, they try to prevent an outsider from performing healing acts. Like Moses, Jesus insisted that the man be allowed to continue. Clearly, he was working in Jesus’ name and not against him. The work of God is not restricted to members of a particular group, even if it is the group of the twelve apostles. By jealously guarding their privileges and gifts, the disciples attempted to limit the reach of God’s power, and to restrict to themselves the administration of the gift of healing.
In the second part of the reading Jesus warns the same disciples against causing scandal. The “little ones” refer to those disciples and believers who were not a part of the group of the twelve. Whoever causes even one of those little ones to fall away from faith would suffer tremendous consequences. The disciples are thus warned not to monopolize God’s power, but to ensure that it can work without hindrance in the world. By jealously guarding their privileges, instead of sharing them, they risked becoming “stumbling stones”.
Finally, Jesus warns about deadly consequences of falling into sin. In the context of the entire reading we might think here of the sin of presumption and possessiveness exhibited by John and the rest of the twelve. However, this teaching certainly applies to any kind of sin. Using a shocking metaphor of cutting off bodily parts and removing the eyes, Jesus emphasizes the gravity of sin, which can prevent one from entering the kingdom of God, and enjoying eternal life. As important as bodily parts are, they are nothing in comparison with what matters most in view of life in the future kingdom. By committing the sin of presumption, and by jealously guarding their privileges, the twelve disciples jeopardized their own future as well as that of others.
Holding on to one’s privileges, and monopolizing God’s gifts, obstructs God’s work in the world. Both Joshua and John sought to monopolize the divine power, and laid claims to have an exclusive right to use it. Both Moses and Jesus forbade such behaviour, knowing full well that God’s work was for the benefit of all the people, not just a particular group. The wealthy landowners rebuked in the letter of James monopolized food and wealth. Seizing God’s blessings of the fruits of the earth for themselves alone, they condemned others to poverty and starvation. Joshua, the wealthy farmers, and the twelve disciples, all made the same mistake of hijacking, or wanting to monopolize the gifts that were given to them to share. In their desires for exclusive power and privileges they laid a deadly trap for themselves. Today’s liturgy sounds a resounding warning to all believers against acting in a similar manner. Indeed, using the words of the Psalm in a reference to these warnings, one might say “by them is your servant warned”.
Listening to the Word of God
One of the great problems that affects the human family and Christian communities is the wrongly understood idea of entitlement. To consider oneself entitled means to think that one deserves certain benefits, not because one has worked for them, but because of who one is or because of one’s position. For example, workers are entitled to receive financial benefits at the end of their contract. Parents are entitled to be obeyed and respected by their children. Children are entitled to be supported and protected. All human beings are entitled to have their dignity and basic human rights upheld always and everywhere. All these are examples of entitlement correctly understood. In this sense, entitlement serves the positive purpose of safeguarding the dignity and well-being of every one of us.
However, today’s liturgy speaks of entitlement wrongly understood, used as a means of protecting the privileges of one group, to the disadvantage and harm of others. This kind of harmful entitlement assumes the superiority of an individual, or a group, based on their unique position. In the first reading Joshua thought that, since he was the right hand of Moses, God’s Spirit belonged only to him. The rich wealthy landowners in James thought that, just because they enjoyed a privileged position in society, they had the right to claim the lion’s share of the food produced by the fields. The disciples, since they were close to Jesus, believed that Jesus worked only through them. All these claims served one purpose – to protect the privileged position of a few, and keep others excluded.
Today, we often hear of religious leaders who cast themselves as God’s great prophets and agents on earth. They are usually very gifted and intelligent individuals. But they use these gifts to focus attention on themselves in order to manipulate their followers. Many of them make it their mission to attack and undermine the Catholic Church. Since they have nothing to offer themselves, they thrive on criticizing and making unfounded accusations. Thus, they put forth arguments to show that Catholics violate the Scripture because they do not abstain from work on Saturday but on Sunday. They claim that Catholics worship idols because they kiss the cross on Good Friday, that praying to Mary and the Saints violates the scripture, and offering Masses for the dead is a sin. Such and numerous other accusations are not only unfounded, but also show their ignorance of Scripture and Catholic teaching. Such attitudes are never a mark of a true believer. We must distinguish between right and wrong, but it is always wrong to seek superiority and privilege by finding fault with others. When we think of ourselves as better than others, then we wrongly feel entitled to God’s grace and God’s blessings in a greater measure than these others.
Today’s liturgy teaches us humility. The world does not revolve around us, and we are not the only ones to whom God’s grace and God’s favour are given. We are not entitled to anything as far as our faith is concerned. All has been given as God’s grace, and the only response fitting to that grace is that of gratitude. This keen awareness that we are not entitled to anything, and yet receive much, keeps us from growing proud and arrogant. These two vices make us stumble in our journey of discipleship by poisoning our souls with the false sense of entitlement. The disciples stumbled, let us watch out lest we also stumble.
“Do not look where you fell, but where you slipped.”
Do I consider myself superior to others? Which of my claims to superiority relies on an honest assessment of my abilities and efforts, and which reflects my empty ambitions?
What am I entitled to? Are my demands similar to those of Joshua and the disciples?
Response to God
I will pray daily imploring God for the grace of humility and fairness, so that I may be God’s humble servant, andenjoy the blessings promised to those who, like Jesus, came to serve and not to be served.
Response to your World
This week I will carefully observe my thinking and reactions for signs of unjustified superiority and entitlement. If detected, I will act to rid myself of these.
In our group, we will carefully study the readings of today reflecting on the theme of harmful entitlement. Do we claim certain privileges which we do not deserve? If identified, we shall determine how to rid ourselves from these vices.
Lord God, today I pray for the gifts of humility and honesty. Allow me to see myself in truth regarding my rights and gifts, but also my limitations and weaknesses. Do not allow me to be proud and despise those less gifted than myself. Rather, lead me to understand how I may assist them in growing and developing as your faithful servants. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.