30 September. 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Num 11:25-29. At first, Moses is the sole leader of God’s People. When many others receive gifts of prophecy, Joshua resents it, but Moses welcomes it.
Jm 5:1-6. This contains a strong condemnation of wealth, especially if it is obtained through the exploitation of the weak.
Mk 9:38ff. Whoever is not against us is with us. Woe to whoever “scandalises the little ones.” A severe warning against scandal. Homily Ideas:
(Patrick Devine) Traditionally, hospitality has had a high profile in the Middle East. Even to the present day, travellers testify to this and its commendation in the Bible in passim rather than passing. One only has to recall – in the context of the allusion to the drink of water in today’s Gospel – the delightful story of Eleazer and Rebekah (Gen 24:15-26) and, of course, the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well. As a Christian virtue, hospitality received a new element from Jesus when he linked the guests with the home-base, or with those who sent them.
Whoever receives one sent by Christ receives Christ himself and will be repaid accordingly. There is to be a sense in which God is in his Son and his Son is in the apostles and they, in turn, are in the Christians who are received – because of those who receive them. When this link is recognized, Jesus promises this particular kind or reward even to those who act without any thought of reward, such as those who give as little as a cup of water. One great difficulty with this brand of hospitality is that it cannot be practised on a pick-and-choose basis.
Most people find it relatively easy to be good hosts when they are safely on their own territory and are called upon to entertain a friend or, at least, a guest who enjoys some sort of entitlement to special consideration. It can be an entirely different matter to deal, for example, with people outside one’s own circle, even those engaged in good work of one kind or another. We can get so wrapped up in our own organization or Church that a certain dynamic takes over, leading to a building up of barriers rather than bridges between ourselves and those seen to be a rival groupings, just as happened to Eldad and Medad or the freelance exorcist in today’s readings. All of this can occur because we tend to have an unbalanced view of your own importance, or of the importance of being one of us, and forget that it is not just we who are involved in the serving of others or in being received by them; what is paramount is Christ’s presence acting in us and being received by others in and through us. Those who cultivate a proper outlook in this regard are less likely to fall into the habit of always waiting for the big heroic occasion while neglecting the little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love, such as giving somebody a drink of water.
As members of our Church, we Catholics are not always enthusiastic about acknowledging the spread of God’s Spirit in other Churches, in non-Christian Religions and, indeed, in every creature. It came as a shock to some of us when the Second Vatican Council recognized the presence of the Holy Spirit in the development of the Ecumenical Movement among the non-Roman Catholics. But, here again, there is a relevance for would-be-ecumenists, as well as others, in Christ’s uncompromising stand vis-à-vis scandal, described in today’s Gospel. The recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit outside the Church does not mean we have to neglect it inside the Church or compromise on the doctrines taught by the Church under the guidance of that same Spirit.
Keeping Something Back
Rural parishes may have a certain bucolic charm, but they are not always the most exciting places to live, either for the priest or the parishioners. One such parish was inclined to wallow in its apathy. The parish priest, an elderly man, was left in no doubt about the moribund state of his parish. “This parish is dead, Father,” people would frequently remark to him, as he made his daily rounds of the village. The implication always seemed to be that if the bishop could only be persuaded to send them a young curate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the parish could be given a new lease of life. As that species had become almost extinct, the parish priest decided to seek another solution, no less drastic. “As it is the universal consensus here that this parish is dead,” he informed the people from the altar, “I propose to hold a funeral for it on Sunday next.” The congregation was flabbergasted. The more charitable among them thought the old man had finally given way to senility. But when they arrived for Mass on the following Sunday, lo and behold, there was a coffin standing before the altar surrounded by six large lighted candles. There was even a large wreath placed at the foot of the coffin bearing the inscription “From your devoted parishioners.” After the gospel, the parish priest looked at the people and said:
“As is the custom in this parish, I now invite you all to come up and pay your final respects to the mortal remains of this parish.” He then shuffled down from the sanctuary, peered into the coffin – the lid had been removed – and stood there for a few moments, his head bowed. One by one, the people left their seats and approached the coffin, some out of curiosity, others to humour their priest, all of them trying to keep a straight face. Each in their turn, peered into the coffin, winced momentarily and slunk sheepishly back to their seats, avoiding each other’s glances. The mortal remains each had seen was his own smug face smirking back at him. The floor of the coffin had been lined with a crystal clear mirror.
We make up the parish, the community, the church, the people of God. “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets,” Moses cried out in exasperation. He would find much to exasperate him in our world. Life has become almost a spectator sport for many of us. We complain incessantly as if we were watching bad television. We see ourselves as victims of disasters over which we have no control, victims of inflation, of pollution, of drugs and crime and every other man-made aberration of our time. We invent a legion to serve as scapegoats. We sit on the fence and grumble about the constant erosion of the “quality of life,” conveniently forgetting that the quality of life is determined by the quality of our lives. You will get no sympathy from James. “Listen to the wages that you kept back calling out.” We have all kept something back. We must all accept responsibility. If we too look into the coffin of our community we will find our own failures reflected there.
First Reading: Book of Numbers 11:25-29
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
Second Reading: Epistle of St. James 5:1-6
Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.