LITURGY AND LIFE
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
It happens in all kinds of organizations, religions or institutional
structures. Someone who is outside the supposed sphere of authority is
nevertheless inspired and moves forward with what someone has already
begun elsewhere, doing so with authority! So, for example, Tim Horton’s
creates a more successful coffee business than Second Cup and Starbucks
show up just as successfully, each providing their own brand of great
coffee for the masses. More striking, perhaps, is how the gifts of the
Spirit are often given to the people we least expect, people outside
our church structures, in the community or in secular organizations and
networks. Readings for this 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time remind us that
the winds of the Spirit blow where they will, and not always in ways
The first reading from the book of Numbers tells how the spirit of prophecy conferred on Moses is shared with the 70 elders in the tent where God dwells. Two men named Eldad and Medad, we are told, remained outside the tent in the camp area and, though they were registered to be among the 70, “they had not gone out to the tent and so they began to prophesy in the camp.” This stirs up disapproval, and maybe even some jealousy, so that a young man runs to Moses to “tell on them” and Joshua too reacts with wanting to stop them. Moses maintains composure and sees through their reactions to the truth of the matter, saying, “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!”
We likely have stories like this of our own. We belong to a parish social justice committee and begin a project inspired by the Spirit for some local cause, only to find out there is a group down the street who serves that cause and does so very ably! As a result, instead of moving forward with our work, we lose focus, begin disapproving of how others are doing things and miss the point of the abundance of God’s generosity.
Mark’s Gospel brings this home even further. John goes to Jesus to “tell on” someone he’s seen casting out demons in Jesus’ name and succeeding, though he doesn’t belong to the band of disciples. Jesus says, “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.” What a powerful Word that moves our hearts to ever more profound ecumenical relations! Jesus is asking us to trust in the fruits of the deeds we see performed through others in his name.
Then Jesus goes much further with his instructions to the disciples. He tells them that even when someone gives a cup of water, “because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” Not only do those who believe in Jesus outside the structures of belonging receive Jesus’ blessing, but also those people who may not necessarily directly believe, but respect those who bear the name of Christ, ie, the disciples.
Jesus is saying that anyone who does a good deed in his name will receive blessings for so doing, and he goes on to warn the disciples and us not to put obstacles in the way of people, little ones, who believe in him. Are they given this diminutive and intimate title “little” because they’ve not had the same privileges of being formed as the disciples have, and Jesus favours their goodness and efforts nevertheless?
Whatever it is, Jesus continues to remind the disciples that they are not to scandalize or oppress others who believe in him. It comes down to this: Jesus wants his disciples to serve and guide as he himself does with great care and love for his disciples, taking them where they are at on their journeys of faith.
The second reading from the letter of James seems at first glance unrelated to the theme of the first and Gospel readings, but a closer look reveals it is indeed related. James cuts to the heart of the sin that oppresses and scandalizes. The very sins Jesus exhorts us to cut off limbs and tear out eyes to avoid, is the covetous and proud heart that will not share its wealth and looks only to its own selfish wants and concerns. This kind of heart will turn in on itself in the end. James warns, “Listen! The wages of the labourer 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.” Our leadership and authority mean little if they are not in the service of “little ones” who have not the privileges or even the basics that we have, many of whom believe in or are open to believing in Jesus.
The Scriptures are inviting us to be wary of disordered motivations and neurotic tendencies for control in favour of trusting the Spirit to act in all kinds of surprising and unexpected ways. The reign of God is breaking in through every possible means, often confounding us, hopefully too inspiring us to see God’s abundance and generosity of Spirit at work in all of creation.
Leduc recently moved from her position as program co-ordinator at Queen’s House Retreat & Renewal Centre in Saskatoon to take on the role as director for Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta. She now lives nearer to family and grandchildren.