Saturday 26 September 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015 - Beyond Boundaries

To read the texts click on the texts: Num 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The English word, prophet, comes from the Latin, propheta or Greek, prophetes which means “one who speaks on behalf of God.” Since the prophet is the mouth by which God speaks to humans, what a prophet says are not his own words, but God’s words. Moses, who figures in the first reading of today, is an example of a prophet from the Old Testament. James, from whose letter the second reading of today is taken, is an example of a prophet in the New Testament.
The first reading, from the book of Numbers, tells about an incident that occurred, as the Israelites were marching through the desert toward the Promised Land, God offered to bestow some of the spirit that was in Moses on seventy elders of the people. These seventy would then share the duties of leadership with Moses. When God bestowed the spirit on the elders, they, like Moses, became prophets and were able to prophesy or speak on behalf of God. Two men, Eldad and Medad, who had not been part of the group of seventy, also received the spirit and began prophesying. Joshua, who was the assistant to Moses, told Moses to stop them, apparently thinking that it was improper for anyone who had not been part of the group of seventy to prophesy. But Moses refused to accept Joshua’s advice. The point that Moses makes is that the Spirit of God cannot be controlled by human structures. It is a force for change that blows where it wills. The charisma of God can appear in people who are not supposed to have such power. Their prophesying illustrates that the boundaries of even minimal forms of hierarchy can be broken by the uncontrollable Spirit of God. The role of Moses in this episode illustrates how an ideal and charismatic leader will promote and recognize such power in unexpected places, rather than view it as a challenge to his own authority, as did Joshua. Charisma breaks established boundaries both inside and outside of communities. Charismatic leadership forces communities to be self-critical, because the power of God can appear in unexpected places and persons.
Such charismatic leadership is noticed in the second reading of today where James also speaks as a charismatic prophet. With words that are bound to sting, he berates the oppressors of the poor. He does not mince words and is categorical and forceful in his criticism of the rich. Speaking on behalf of God, he asks them to realize that it is their riches which will be used as evidence for their condemnation and judgement.
This Lord, who speaks in the Gospel text of today, is not merely a prophet. He does not speak on behalf of God, for he is God. If the words of the prophet have to be taken seriously and acted upon, how much more so the words of God himself. In the first part of the Gospel text, Jesus corrects John, like Moses corrected Joshua. Like Joshua, it seems that John too is jealous of the unnamed exorcist who was able to exorcise, despite not being part of the inner circle of Jesus. Jesus, however, is open and accommodating. He will not set limits on persons as long as they are doing what God wants them to do. He will not be an obstacle in the way of anyone who is doing God’s work to make his kingdom a reality He does not claim a monopoly on such work, and he exhorts his disciples to adopt this way of thinking.
However, the kingdom will remain a distant dream and will not be translated into reality if there are stumbling blocks that keep coming in the way of the kingdom. These are not external events, but persons and their attitudes and this is what Jesus addresses in the second part of today’s Gospel. The behavior and attitude of the disciples can become a scandal to those who witness them. Jesus warns his disciples that their behavior can scandalize simple people.
The scandals that we can cause, as disciples of Jesus, can be seen in two areas. One area is when, like Joshua and John, we become narrow minded and parochial. We may focus so much on the external that we might lose sight of the internal. The second area in which we can cause scandal is through the words that we speak and the actions that we do. Our words and actions may, at times, drive people away from Jesus rather than draw people to him.

The call of the readings them, is a twofold call. It is first a call to each one of us to be a prophet of God and to have the courage to speak on his behalf to a world that has grown deaf and will not hear and to a world that has grown blind and will not see. It is also a call to an open-minded attitude that will welcome the actions of those who may not belong to our “inner circle” of faith, realizing that the Spirit of God can work when and where the Spirit wills It is also to live our lives as Christians and followers of Jesus in such a manner that, when people see and hear us, they will be seeing and hearing Jesus Christ. It is to dare to say with Paul, that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20).

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