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SEPTEMBER 27, 2009: TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

One of the reasons some Christians have difficulty appreciating the Hebrew Scriptures is that it’s not exactly a good old fashion Lives of the Saints. Rarely do we find anyone “canonizable” among its characters. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob don’t hesitate to lie when a favorable occasion presents itself. Even King David - the one of “Jesus, Son of David, have pity of me!” fame - is an adulterer, murderer, and, as Hans Walter Wolff often reminded us, the worst parent in all of Scripture. If anyone dare put up any of these characters for canonization, the Devil’s Advocate would have a field day. Frequently their failings and weaknesses are their most evident traits.

Our biblical authors would be amazed at our amazement. When we encounter them in heaven they’ll first want to know if we’re actually people of faith. How could we have missed the message they were trying to convey?

No doubt they’ll remind us of one of Scripture’s oldest writings: the Torah’s Yahwistic source, and especially take us back to its Genesis 2 creation narrative. It’s there that Yahweh breathes Yahweh’s sprit into the newly molded man - that same spirit which gives him, and all of us, life. It’s that spirit of Yahweh which constantly breaks through in the Bible’s “heroes of old” stories.

Our sacred writers are far more interested in pointing out those times when Yahweh’s spirit pushes through our human limitations than they’re concerned with setting up saints for us to imitate. As aggravating as it might be, they’re convinced that we can never restrict God’s spirit. No human has ever been able to accomplish that feat, no matter how hard we try.

Today’s Numbers pericope presents us with a classic example. Not even Moses can control the dispensing of the spirit that Yahweh had bestowed on him. Even after the “official” transfer of the prophetic spirit, the absent Eldad and Medad still receive the same spirit.

Many of us can identify with Joshua’s plea to Moses, “Stop them!” Obviously the two hadn’t jumped through the same hoops that the other 68 had. The authority figures had no control over their receiving it.

It’s significant that on the day we hear Moses reprimand Joshua, we also hear Jesus reprimand John. One of Jesus’ 12 is disturbed that someone who “does not follow us is driving out demons in your name.” Discipleship should be a prerequisite for anyone who has the spirit of exorcism.

John’s amazed that the person he follows is convinced God can work through people who don’t follow him. Jesus expects John to be open enough to believe “whoever is not against us is for us.”

Many of us overlook that when Mark’s Jesus speaks of “the little ones who believe in me,” he’s not talking about little children. Mark uses this term to designate “ordinary” Christians. It’s his fear that leadership could do something to cause the faithful to sin.

Perhaps in this context the worse they could do would be to convince these “other Christs” that God’s spirit only resides in important people - like themselves.

James obviously has a problem with some in his community paying undue respect to the rich, just because they’re rich. The author fears the wealth of others so blinds some that they first don’t recognize the problems the wealthy can create in the community, and second, don’t appreciate how God’s spirit can be in someone so insignificant as themselves.

No leader who recognizes God’s spirit in everyone will ever scandalize anyone.