26th Sunday, Ordinary Time
Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-48
In today’s Gospel, we see the Apostle, John, take issue with someone who is casting out demons in the name of Jesus. His concern is that this individual is not one of their followers. And yet, someone is doing a good work in the name of Jesus. Similarly, in today’s first reading, Joshua is upset that two individuals who were not present at the time Moses prayed that God share a portion of his spirit with a group of elders, are prophesying, apparently having received a portion of God’s spirit. We see in both John and Joshua a mind-set which too narrowly constricts the possibility of God to work among his people. We see in Moses and Jesus the willingness to allow God to be God.
The response of Moses to Joshua is: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” Likewise, Jesus response to John: “There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
A practical question for us today in light of these biblical events would be to examine if we perhaps still have too narrowly envisioned how God is or can be at work in the Church today. Clearly, God has bestowed a great dignity upon each of us in that we are all created in his image and likeness. Each of us was drawn forth from the very love of God. God has bestowed upon each of us our own unique set of gifts and through Baptism and Confirmation, has sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts.
How fully do we live this God-given dignity in our daily life? Have we taken conscious possession of our God-given gifts? and do we share them fully for the building up of God’s Kingdom?
It seems to me that there are still plenty of un-tapped gifts and resources within the People of God. The renewal of our Church, and the advancement of our society requires all of us to recognize our human dignity and to generously share our God-given gifts for the common good of all.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis said as much yesterday morning in a Mass with priests and religious in Philadelphia:
One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life. …
We know that the future of the Church in a rapidly changing society will call, and even now calls, for a much more active engagement on the part of the laity. The Church in the United States has always devoted immense effort to the work of catechesis and education. Our challenge today is to build on those solid foundations and to foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility in planning for the future of our parishes and institutions. This does not mean relinquishing the spiritual authority with which we have been entrusted; rather, it means discerning and employing wisely the manifold gifts which the Spirit pours out upon the Church.
The second point of today’s readings calls us to be astute and honest about the barriers that seek to diminish the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. In short, we are called to take a hard look at the sin that is at work in our own lives. Sin is a reality, and so is the possibility of spending eternity separated from the presence of God. Jesus’ own words tell us how harsh we must be our efforts to remove sin from our lives.
Obviously, Jesus is not calling us to mutilate ourselves. The source of sin is not our eye or our hands, but our will. This is where we must be willing to engage the hard work of conversion. Our interior life is what stands in constant need of the Light of Christ and the personal willingness to remove from our thoughts, words and deeds any sinful patterns of behavior.
We are all aware of stories of individuals whose life was threatened by some serious infection, and the only way of saving that life was to amputate a limb or some part of the body to prevent that infection from spreading. Our spiritual life is far more important than the physical, and we must be willing to take similar actions to prevent the poison of sin from stealing us away from God’s eternal presence.
Jesus desires that none of us be lost, but he also speaks today of that very possibility; the possibility of being cast into Gehenna, ‘where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” So, hell is a reality, but it is a reality of our own choosing, not God’s. C. S. Lewis was quoted as saying: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.” (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, as quoted by Mary Healy in her commentary, Mark.)
We know that every life has options. We know that just as every day is a combination of night and day, so too, the interior life of every person involves light and darkness. There are moments of consolation when we experience the abiding presence of the Lord, and there are moments of desolation and temptation when the Lord allows us to be forged in holiness by the reality of the cross. Some days we experience a greater capacity to cooperate with God’s grace, and some days less so. One writer recently observed that “we are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.” The challenge for the believer is to allow the Risen Christ to continually heal the sin, to bind the wounds of sin, and to consciously choose Christ at all times.
Today, as in every Eucharistic celebration, we come to bask in the Light of the Risen Christ. We come to express once again our love for the Lord and to strengthen the bonds of faith with one another through this worshipping community. We come to profess publicly again, our association with Jesus Christ, and to beg him to pour out his Holy Spirit upon us, thus making the plea and prayer of Moses our own:
Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!
Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on us all!
Please God, may it be so.