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Ordinary Time 26 (B)
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Readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Numbers 11, 25-29

  • The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses.  I hear an ancient passage that sounds foreign to us today.  How can I imagine the scene to myself, so that my listeners will accompany me through the story to the truth it reveals?
  • Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders.  The people have journeyed from Egypt and are hungry.  God seems far away and their need for food immense.  Moses himself wonders what can be done.  Quail are about to appear in abundance, and the people must see that they do not come by accident; no, God is acting on their behalf.  The presence of the spirit speaking is the sign.
  • My first impulse was to read the story as a kind of political event of passing on authority.  But this spirit is not passed on; rather, it is received by the elders.  As the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.  They are praying, not leading.  It is sounding more and more like the first Pentecost.  God is in charge, not Moses or anyone else.  Now I intend to read it in the context of a prayer meeting, more softly and intensely, to indicate the action of God in them.
  • The connection with today’s Gospel becomes evident in the rest of the passage, in which Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.  These two elders were not present at the general meeting and so their authorization is placed in doubt.  I can connect this flow of events very easily to our own experience as church, in which God speaks among the people in unexpected ways.
  • Joshua is, as Moses tells him, jealous for my sake.  Authority in other words is supposed to pass through the patriarch to everyone else.  But God had other intentions.  That is what the author writes: The spirit came to rest on them also.  I imagine the young man as he whispers the news to Moses, and Joshua who gives his advice privately and instinctively, more out of propriety than of alarm, as if to say: Well, I think you should stop them.
  • Climax: Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!  What a glorious prayer, and indeed what an agenda for our evangelization work!
  • Message for our assembly: Are we ready to accept the presence of God in our neighbors with us today, even in those we do not get along with?
  • I will challenge myself: To acclaim the words of Moses in full agreement.  I want to see a little of the charismatic gift in this assembly, because I believe in a God who does not give sparingly.

 

2. James 5, 1-6

  • Come now, you rich.  Steve Rose’s protest hymn comes back to me, though Steve’s lyrics admonish while the apostle’s words threaten.
  • If I were ever to let our assembly overhear a reading, this is it.  Now is not the time to establish eye contact with anyone present, but to settle on a vague space out there, where each will hear and apply the teaching.  John Paul II spoke most resolutely on this theme, as have so many saints through the centuries and numerous national bishops’ conferences.
  • That does not mean that I will downplay the message!  The early churches fell prey to materialist ways of living, but we as true children of our age have carried the game of possessions to new heights.  You have stored up treasure for the last days.  The elder reminds the churches of another life where the comfortable today will face impending miseries. 
  • I hear many examples of decay: rotted away, moth eaten, corroded, devour your flesh.  The elder intended to shock his readers, just as those today who produce videos about drug addiction and AIDS.  I don’t have to overdo this or sound like a hellfire preacher to get his point across.
  • The passage concludes with a second accusation.  Not only have the wealthy offended God by attending excessively to material gain, but they have also wronged others in the process.  That wealth did not come cleanly.  You withheld wages from the workers who harvested your fields.  You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one.  The singular ‘righteous one’ sounds like Jesus to my ears.
  • Central sentence: You have "stored up treasure for the last days"?  It makes sense only if the elder is quoting his audience and ready to refute them.  The change in punctuation shows how I want it to sound: Have you really?  And at whose expense? 
  • Central point: Accumulation of wealth in itself is offensive to God and has no place in the kingdom or in the last days.
  • The message for our assembly: We are all quite aware of the material conveniences that we still do not possess.  My assembly qualifies hands down.
  • I will challenge myself: To allow for some shock effect, but to remember that I am quoting from the Bible and not giving today’s homily.

 

Gospel. Mark 9, 38-48

  • Today’s reading includes two passages from Mark.  The first has much in common with the first reading.  A disciple told Jesus: We tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.  I might repeat John’s words innocently, as someone acting in some ignorance who really believes he did the right thing. 
  • Jesus offers in reply some wisdom that could be heeded by all who, from the very top of the institution, insist on defining our church exclusively, contrasting it with those who are not members.  I will speak his reply in a magnanimous tone: Whoever is not against us is for us.  Jesus is not rebuking the disciple but elevating his thoughts to a higher plane.  He really means anyone; so will I.
  • The second set of teachings applies to all of us in our family lives as well as our life as church.  Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin  It sounds to me like an early child protection rule.  I will repeat the harsh punishment harshly.
  • If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Yes, all folk cultures are prone to exaggeration.  On the other hand, we urbanized folks grasp the urgency of the first two words: cut it!  If someone has a smoking, drinking, sex or drug addiction, we know that a total break from the vicious behavior is necessary.  A recent dramatization of this came in the hit movie Ray.  Could I speak the words ‘cut it’ more sharply, so that my listeners get the point?
  • Climax: Cut it off.  I like it not because I would follow it literally, but because it sets off an urgent alarm about the life to which we all are headed.  Enter into life, enter into the kingdom of God.  In that respect it echoes the warnings in James.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we take these urgent warnings seriously?  Are we planning more carefully for our retirement than for our entry into new life?
  • I will challenge myself: To make my eye contact with the congregation only in the first half of the reading.

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