CNS photo/Paul Haring

God’s Spirit rests upon whom it chooses

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  • September 17, 2015

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)

Religion is all about power — that is the judgment of many cynics and skeptics. While this is too harsh a judgment and suffers from a lack of nuance and balance, it contains an element of truth. People sense the power and energy that flows from a close relationship with God and they guard it jealously. Boundaries and rules are established, as well as ways of determining who is in or out, worthy or unworthy. Tight control is maintained over who is allowed to exercise power.

Joshua was extremely upset that two men who were not present for the ceremony in which the 70 elders received the Spirit of God were prophesying. He pleaded frantically for Moses to stop them — they weren’t authorized. Rules and boundaries had been violated. Moses, however, was completely serene and unconcerned. He recognized that the Spirit of God is not a limited commodity to be strictly rationed. He mused on the wonderful possibility that all the Lord’s people would be endowed with the Spirit of God and exercise the role of prophets. There was no need to hoard or grasp at the Spirit of God, for it would be poured out generously.

Moses’ attitude showed both a profound trust in God and a personal knowledge of the infinite nature of God’s love and grace. If only humanity could learn this lesson, for most of the religious bigotry, intolerance and violence in the world flows from this attempt to own and control God. The Spirit of God blows wherever it wills and rests on whomever it chooses.

The psalm proclaims that the “precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.” In other words, God’s laws have a reason and purpose and are not capricious or arbitrary. They are intended to help human beings to flourish and be happy. Following in God’s ways has its own built-in, immediate reward. The reverse is also true, as James warns his readers. There are those who become completely swallowed up in self. This is manifested in the unbridled pursuit of wealth, luxury and ease, with no thought to the impact this might have on others. He warns those whose prosperity has been at the expense of the poor and those who worked for them that the day of reckoning is close at hand. On that day, they will discover that they have missed the boat and have not understood the spiritual purpose of life. They have been blind to the opportunities to grow, learn, love and serve. That realization alone would be sufficient punishment.
Stepping into the role of Moses, Jesus was likewise unperturbed by someone casting out demons in His name. His disciples were outraged — after all, the fellow did not belong to their group. For Jesus, it was enough that the man had been inspired to do good in Jesus’ name. They were not working at cross-purposes, so it could not be said that the man was in any way against Jesus.

Many people will be touched by the teachings of Jesus in various ways and they too must be respected. In a seemingly unrelated teaching, Jesus uses stark shock language to underline the necessity of making changes in one’s character. Not even biblical literalists would agree to cutting off their hands and feet or gouging out their eyes. This is hyperbole that is used to emphasize the seriousness and gravity of the matter at hand. Life is short, and it is so easy to put off making significant changes in our lifestyle and character. We can make tons of excuses for our failings and push thoughts of change to the back of our minds. Each day is a gift given to us as an opportunity to learn the lessons of love, humility, service and unity.

We do not escape who and what we are by death — we carry our baggage, for good or ill, into the world to come. It is far better to seize the day and begin the task for which we have been given this life: to be transformed into the image of Christ.

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