Moses with the Ten Commandments, Philippe de Champaigne, 1648

God's word on Sunday: Spirit of God is intended for all of us

  • September 29, 2018

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 30 (Year B) Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

No one owns or controls the Spirit of God. 

Throughout the centuries, some have tried to build a gated fence around the Spirit, controlling access and limiting religious experience. Often the Spirit has been used for control and domination, bolstering authority claims and institutional structures. This is evident in this account of the sharing of the Spirit with the elders of Israel. 

Overburdened by his many duties, Moses appealed to God, who then distributed some of Moses’ Spirit on 70 chosen elders. They immediately began to prophesy, even if for a limited time. As is often the case, two of the 70 were late or had forgotten — they were still in the camp and had not gone out to where the action was taking place. That didn’t seem to matter, for they both began to prophesy in the camp. 

This was terribly upsetting to some. Eldad and Medad hadn’t obeyed the rules. They had strayed outside the established boundaries and procedures. Joshua pleaded with Moses to put an end to their rogue prophesying and silence them. After all, there was no telling where it might lead! 

But Moses did not seem the least bit upset or perturbed. His response was “Are you jealous for my sake?” In other words, “So what? I don’t own the Spirit.” A wonderful vision was forming in his mind, and he mused about how great it would be if all God’s people could receive His Spirit and be prophets. 

Throughout the Old Testament, God touched many people with the divine Spirit — even unlikely candidates — anointing them for prophetic and inspirational service. In the Book of Joel, a beautiful prophecy anticipated the day on which God would pour out the Spirit on all flesh — men, women, children and slaves — without distinction. God intended to spiritually empower all humanity. 

This prophecy was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Unfortunately, too few have really opened themselves to this gift and allowed the Spirit to accomplish its mission of transformation and inspiration. But it is never too late.

James does not take any prisoners in his description of the fate awaiting the exploitive and oppressive wealthy. They have enjoyed their wealth and power, but retribution for their injustice will surely come in the last days. Especially appalling, in James’ view, was the way in which many withheld just wages from the workers. 

Today we might not focus so much on individuals but consider economic injustice in a larger context. The guilty might be corporations, big business, banks, the stock market, but even then they are but part of a ruthless and exploitive economic system that puts profits before people or the common good. 

All human institutions and practices must be based on the divine principles of justice, compassion, equality and mercy, or they cannot survive. The warning of James is as important today as it was then.

Some of the apostles were indignant because a man who was not part of their group was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. They tried their best to silence the man, but like Moses, Jesus was not the least concerned. He forbade them to stop the man. Anyone inspired by the example or teachings of Jesus to do something good was in a sense following Him. 

To be open to the teachings of Jesus and to promoting action based on them was just fine in the Lord’s eyes. Jesus was not hoarding spiritual power for Himself or His followers, but revealing divine generosity and compassion in action. Reading the Gospels while considering current events is a humbling and enlightening experience. 

Jesus’ warning about placing stumbling blocks before the little ones who believe in Him is especially poignant today. The scandals in the Church have ruined the lives of many victims, but they have also damaged or destroyed the faith of many others. Just as with personal moral and spiritual conversion, courageous, radical action is part of the solution. 

Inaction, denial or reluctance to do what is necessary cannot be an option. As Jesus warns us, whatever causes us to stumble must be removed. A little discomfort or pain now is far better than the destruction and misery resulting from inaction. 

We are all blessed with the Spirit, so let us all speak up and be heard. 

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