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God's Word on Sunday: We all share in birthright of the Spirit

  • September 19, 2021

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

Leading the Israelites through the wilderness was too great a burden to rest solely on the shoulders of one man.

Moses chose 70 elders to be an extension of his authority and power. Why 70? The number was sacred to the Israelites — for instance, there were 70 nations on Earth after the flood and the exile lasted 70 years. Looking forward, it is also reminiscent of the 70 whom Jesus empowered with the Spirit and sent out on mission.

This story is about power and authority and the human tendency to seek and hoard it. As the Spirit descended on the assembled elders, they began to prophesy. But then it was apparent that two men were missing, even though they were on the list. There are always those who will be late or not show up at the proper time.

In this case it didn’t seem to matter, for even though they were back in camp, the Spirit fell upon them and they began to prophesy. That caused a furor; there were those around Moses who were outraged and they begged Moses to make the two wayward prophets stop immediately.

The reply of Moses was interesting and provocative — he asked them why they were getting so worked up. He didn’t own or control the Spirit. No one did, and it rested upon whomever it chose. There was no need to be jealous for his sake, for Moses did not feel that he was being disrespected or that his authority was weakened. In fact, he thought it would be just great if God would grant the Spirit to every Israelite and that they would all be prophets.

Throughout the centuries, there has been a tug of war over the Spirit.

There are those who would agree with Moses and do not feel at all threatened by the democratization of spiritual power. Then there are those who seek to hoard this power for themselves and a select elite, for it enables the possessors of the Spirit to dominate others. This raises the danger of self-aggrandizement and personal enrichment. The Spirit is our birthright; we should guard and protect it.

Some of these dangerous tendencies are reflected in the hair-raising condemnation that James made concerning the rich. Merely being wealthy was not a sin, but the behaviour of those whom James condemned was and always will be. They were corrupt and unjust, cheating the labourers of their wages. They were also completely indifferent to the poor and those in need and behaved with arrogance and callousness.

It’s an age-old story and it is easy to find many examples of similar behaviour today. James warned them that their wealth would not help them in the end.

It is sobering to realize that this was written of an early Christian community. There were those unable to internalize the message of Jesus — that we are all one and that all are loved equally by God.

Some of the disciples were not happy — someone was casting out demons in the name of Jesus — and he was not part of their group. They tried to stop him, echoing the objectors in the reading from Numbers.

But just like Moses, Jesus was not perturbed. He told them to let the man be. It was enough that he was inspired by Jesus to do good for others.

People can be touched in many ways by the Spirit of Jesus and not all will belong to the group. Jesus observed that whoever was not against Him should not be regarded as an enemy or adversary. We should be more concerned about the actions of others rather than the labels.

He also had much to say about stumbling. One of the worst things someone can do is cause another to stumble spiritually or morally. In our own time, many have lost their faith and others have been personally harmed by the countless revelations of sexual abuse, as well as the tragedy of the residential schools.

Using shock language, Jesus has firm advice on how to deal with whatever causes us to stumble. Radical surgery is the answer: Have the courage and faith to confront problems and situations squarely, making deep and lasting changes.

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