SEPTEMBER 30TH, 2018: TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
"Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, "
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said,
"Moses, my lord, stop them."
But Moses answered him,
"Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
At that time, John said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."
Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
One of the most difficult things for people of faith to acknowledge is that we can’t put limits on God. It’s impossible to set boundaries in which God can work. He/she can only go so far, no further. Today’s first and third readings show how ridiculous it is to even attempt putting limits on an unlimited being.
Moses isn’t foolish enough to restrict Yahweh in our Numbers pericope. Though Eldad and Medad are among the spirit-filled 70 elders, they miss the formal “installation” ceremony. Yet they’re eventually heard prophesying alongside their 68 cohorts. Joshua, following recognized rules and regulations, wants to immediately stifle the pair. But Moses stops him. “Would that all the people of Yahweh were prophets,” he says. “Would that Yahweh might bestow his spirit on them all.” In other words, we should be expanding God’s actions, not restricting them.
Jesus encounters a similar “restrictor” in our gospel passage: John. “We saw someone driving out demons in your name,” he tells Jesus, “and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” But instead of presenting John a gold star for snitching, Jesus cuts him down. “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me.” Then he teaches his followers how to approach such “grey” situations, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Obviously, we follow a God who can work through anyone, any place, any time.
In a similar vein, the author of James reminds his readers that our God numbers the most unlikely people among his “righteous.” According to traditional, biblical Jewish theology, the community’s wealthy are the people most blessed by Yahweh. Yet those with riches are the individuals who most frequently break God’s laws, especially in their relationship with the poor. One can’t tell who’s righteous and who isn’t without a scorecard – Yahweh’s scorecard. The problem is that it’s a constantly changing scorecard. Just when we’re certain we know who’s in the game and who’s sitting on the bench, God switches players.
That seems to be why the gospel Jesus continues his “cut-down” of John by pointing out the role “insignificant” people play in making God effectively present in our lives. “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his or her reward.” Not only will those who actively work at making God’s kingdom present in our world receive their reward, but that reward applies to anyone who gives even the slightest help to those engaged in such work.
Of course, the opposite is also true. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better . . ..” Contrary to popular belief, “little ones” in this context doesn’t refer to physical children. It’s simply one of the gospel Jesus’ affectionate terms for his followers. Who would dare encourage someone to break faith with the risen Jesus? Can’t imagine the consequences.
Nothing or no one should stop us from making Jesus’ mentality our mentality, no matter how difficult that is to achieve. If we’re not careful, we could end up in Gehenna.
Jesus doesn’t seem to be referring to hell in this warning: most probably he’s employing Gehenna’s original meaning: the Jerusalem city dump. He presumes nothing’s worse – not even physical handicaps -than living in a place chock full of worms and constant fires. If we’re broadminded enough to accept Jesus’ outlook on those around us, we’ll actually live life to the fullest. After all, those who insist on limiting God eventually limit themselves at the same time.