In the readings of this Sunday we find an appeal which calls for a radical action against sin, that is, anything that stifles God’s Spirit at work in the world, especially in persons and situations where we least expect it. Our role is to discern and to open ourselves to his presence. What does that entail? We reflect together!
Bible readings Numbers 11: 25–29 Psalms 19: 8, 10, 12–14 James 5: 1–6 Mark 9: 38–43, 45, 47–48
Let’s do a recap in order to identify elements that we can peg on for our nourishment. The 1st reading is about the installation of 70 elders as judges, while in the Gospel we have a bit of mixture: from correcting John to a teaching, quite radical, about sin. We begin with the 1st reading first.
Outsiders receive the Spirit
I propose to go back a few steps. Moses, a star in the OT who needs no introduction, seems to be wearing himself out because of the tendency to one-man-show leadership. When he sits from morning to evening acting as judge. When his father in law, Jethro, notices that he’s quickly sounds the alarm. You are overworking yourself, he tells Moses, why don’t you consider sharing the responsibility with some elders? It’s from such intervention that we arrive at the installation of the elders, rendezvous at the Tent of meeting, God’s dwelling among his people.
God takes the spirit from Moses and shares it among the chosen elders who begin to prophesy. But two elders are missing, Eldad and Medad. Nevertheless, they too begin to prophesy for they have also received their share of the spirit right where they -in the camp. How can it be, these rebels, receiving also the Spirit outside God’s sanctuary? Joshua, Moses’ right hand man, doesn’t appreciate it, and so, he tells his master: “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses responds with wisdom and discernment: “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” No monopoly! God gives his Spirit to whomever he wishes. But such jealousy will cross even to NT times.
“We stopped him”
We meet it in the Gospel, again with someone very close to the master. John reports to Jesus: “Teacher…we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” For that John doesn’t receive a pat on the back. He too may need to tone down his jealousy and learn to see things a bit more positively. “Do not stop him,” Jesus tells him, “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.” In a way, the Lord invites John to open himself to the fruits of the Spirit in the man he labels simply as “not one of us” -an outsider. Jealousy, with all its damaging consequences, unfortunately, is still among us, Christians of today. We can understand, therefore, the pertinence of such an uncompromising appeal of Jesus regarding sin.
Unpleasant language to our ears
The words of Jesus are hair-raising! Anyone who causes another person to sin let him perish at the bottom of the sea, and should you realise that your eye, your hand or your foot leads you to sin -get rid of it. Radicalism! Can’t we cry with alarm? Do we really have to mutilate ourselves to find a place in heaven? Such language, no doubt, doesn’t go well with our sensitivity today, especially the time when some people are waging war against various forms of mutilations. Nevertheless, let’s not be fixated on the language, or we risk missing out the meaning. So, what’s Jesus saying?
Well, we end here with a recap and let’s move on to underpin certain words and attitudes from the readings.
“He’s not one of us”
In sociology, you talk of in–groups and out–groups. You identify yourself with an in-group whose members are your “comrades” -good or bad. The out-group is the enemy’s camp and the only thing you may have in common is mutual opposition, not to say hatred. There’s nothing good in the other camp, so informs you the group pride. Consequently, you idealise your own group: you have the right teaching, your way of doing things is the best, you are role model whose example everyone should follow. If what’s good is all in your camp, then, whatever is out there is trash. Often, such beliefs taken as truth are only fruit of sentimental opinion fed on nothing but indoctrination and pride. My dear, dare to verify things and face the facts with honesty.
Such mean way of relating to others isn’t limited to groups alone, but also to one-to-one encounters. I may feel shy to say it, yet, within me the pride is well rooted, and I see myself to be the best priest, best wife or husband, best worker -the litany of self-praise is endless. But what could be the possible consequences of such simmering pride?
Unfair look on others
Categorically, I see nothing good in others for appreciating them would be like putting myself at pars with them. So, the only way to feed my pride is to view others as undeserving and go out of my way to highlight what doesn’t work well in them. That’s how low self-conceit can push us. And that’s not all.
I may equally become intolerant towards others, not leaving them to be the persons they are. Everyone should be like me -a universal role model. With little reflection, to my surprise, I may discover that the persons I label as bad their only sin, perhaps, is that they are simply different, and so they act only differently. Ah, then, I may only be fighting the Spirit of diversity, he, who blows wherever he wills.
In such attitude and behaviour towards others I may realise how I have been building more walls of separation than bridges and alienating more than uniting. So, it becomes evident how pride, jealousy and intolerance can damage not only a Christian, but also a human community in general. To act decisively against such tendencies there is need for a serious resolve. Then, we can appreciate the message of Jesus which is not necessarily about mutilating oneself, but an expression of the uncompromising determination to stamp out sin, that is, whatever tendencies that injure our relationships.
But is it all we can get from the readings? Certainly, there’s more than just sins; there’s good news also.
The Spirit outside his dwelling
We may be used to making clear-cut divisions, judging people as good or bad. The word of God of this Sunday widens our horizons. God’s Spirit is at work even in places, situations and persons where we least expect him. Our role is not of directors, to telecommand where and how the he should work, rather, we are called to discern his presence, wherever he’s. The Spirit of God cannot be pinned to the Tent of meeting. That’s why the word of God is inviting us: open your eyes and see; others may be different, and they may do things differently but it’s not for that they should be bad people.
And if I turn the perspective, I find that there are times when I have acted like Joshua or John, that is, with a tinge of jealousy. Yet, that’s not all there’s in me -God’s Spirit also is at work in me. It means, in our daily interactions, as Christians, we should not be stifling, but rather enabling to thrive fruits of the Spirit both in us and in others. Perhaps, that’s a good glass of cold water that won’t go unrewarded -it’s about giving support to one another.
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