We can all belong to Christ

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  • September 21, 2009
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Sept. 27 (Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)

Spiritual power is not to be hoarded but shared. Unfortunately, possessiveness and the desire to have power over others neutralize so much of the work that God desires to do on our behalf.

This is certainly nothing new for the reading from Numbers illustrates that the people of God have struggled with this very human tendency from the beginning of their journey. Moses intends to delegate power to 70 elders — the job and the number of people have made the role of solitary prophet unmanageable. God distributes some of the spiritual power of Moses on the others causing them to prophesy — but only briefly. This is where the story gets interesting — there are two men who were not present when the power was given but remained in the camp, confirming that there are always some who never get the word or show up on time. But they prophesy nonetheless even while back in camp for the spirit has also rested on them.

There are those who are horrified — control freaks have always been with us — and they demand that Moses stop them. After all, the two errant prophets didn’t follow the script or the rules and they weren’t part of the group. But Moses is relaxed and at peace and chides them for being so jealous and controlling. His musing words bear reflection and meditation: Wouldn’t it be great if all of God’s people were prophets and all would have God’s spirit in them? This has been the entire direction of salvation history. The spirit that was given at Pentecost rested on all who were present and within the entire community of believers. The spirit is possessed and controlled by no one but speaks freely through all whose hearts and minds are open and willing. When we stifle the spirit it is to our own detriment.

James has harsh words for the rich but a careful reading reveals that he is railing against corruption, injustice and indifference rather than wealth itself. The targets of his accusation are those who have enriched themselves at the expense of others. As usual those on the bottom of the social order bear the brunt of injustice — workers are cheated out of their just wages. With perhaps a bit of glee James points out that in the coming tribulation and judgment their wealth and possessions will count for nothing — in fact, it will be used as evidence of their corruption and injustice.

All of this has an eerie ring to it in light of the economic tribulations we are experiencing. The few enriched themselves at the expense of the many: Ponzi schemes, junk bonds, dishonest and careless business practices and huge bonuses for the perpetrators. It all came tumbling down but unfortunately — with a few exceptions — ordinary people were the ones most affected. Wealth must always be used wisely, justly and equitably, whether by individuals, corporations or governments.

The same sort of possessiveness and desire for control that we saw in the distribution of the spirit in Numbers is evident in the passage from Mark. Some of the disciples of Jesus are aghast that someone who was not one of their group was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They try to stop him — after all, he is not authorized and is not under their authority. But just as in the case of Moses, Jesus is serene and unconcerned. Why stop him? He’s doing good, isn’t he? He must be in some way inspired by me and he isn’t going to turn around and do evil. Leave him alone — if he is not against us then he is for us. The simplest act of goodness or kindness, done with compassion, is a Christ-like deed.

Belonging to Christ is determined by what we think, say and do rather than the group or organization we belong to. People should not have to run an obstacle course to approach the Lord. Setting innumerable conditions before them that cause them to stumble or lose heart is something that draws the particular ire of Jesus. We are on shaky ground when we try to limit or define who belongs to Christ. Jesus Christ will reveal Himself to all in many different ways and people will receive Him according to their own particular understanding. We need to respect and honour this.

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