Monday, October 1, 2018

Ordinary Prophets

                           26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
                          

Capernaum millstone

         
What are we to make of this puzzling first reading from the Book of Numbers? Who has ever heard of Eldad and Medad, the two unlikely prophets? They are certainly not ranked among the great Hebrew prophets like Isaiah and Elijah. 

In today’s account we are told that Eldad and Medad were left behind in the Hebrew camp when the Lord’s spirit came upon 70 elders in the same way that it had come upon Moses. In other words, these seventy were to share in the work of Moses. It was like our sacrament of Confirmation where the Bishop, who has already received the Spirit, shares it with the newly confirmed.

However, a problem arose because apparently Eldad and Medad received the Spirit even though they were not present at the ceremony. Our reading tells us that Joshua, the closest disciple of Moses, took offense and urged Moses to forbid Eldad and Medad from prophesying.  Moses replied,

Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!
Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all! 

Moses understood that the Lord could bestow His Spirit on whomever he chose, whenever He chose, and wherever He chose. 

It is no coincidence that the Church pairs this reading about Moses, Eldad, and Medad, with today’s gospel account. Moses was the savior of the Israelites. He had led them out of the slavery of Egypt. Jesus, of course, is the savior of us all. Moreover, we are told in today’s gospel that the Spirit of the Lord was just as bountiful and unpredictable as it was in the time of Moses. 

You may remember that in last week’s gospel the Apostles had been arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest. Now another bone of contention comes up. John, one of the twelve chosen Apostles, tells Jesus that they saw someone who was not a disciple driving out demons in the name of Jesus. In other words, John believed that only he and the other Apostles and disciples of Jesus, who had been called to do his work, were the ones who could do the work.

In the same way that Moses told Joshua not to impede the good works of Eldad and Medad, Jesus tells John and the others not to impede anyone doing good works in His name. He teaches John and the others that the spirit of God moves in many and mysterious ways.

There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
Who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
Because you belong to Christ,
Amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

The spirit of God is infinitely more powerful than any human being can understand. We certainly cannot control it. Nor can we think that it only operates through standard bureaucratic channels. Notice that in this passage Jesus says that anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink will receive a reward. That’s all it takes. We don’t give drink to the thirsty or food to the hungry because we are Christians. When we give drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry, we become Christian. 

The rest of today’s gospel deals with the burdens we put upon ourselves that Jesus compares to putting a large millstone around our neck. It contains the famous words about cutting off a hand or foot, or plucking out one’s eye if they are leading you astray. 

While not to be taken literally, the words used by Jesus are strong. In today’s second reading from the letter of the apostle James, we see how they were understood by his disciples. The hand, the foot, and the eye are just symbols of things like wealth, power, and prestige that we think will bring happiness. But:

You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.

Prophets did not so much tell the future as point out the evils in their own time. James was as good a prophet as any, but he was just an ordinary fisherman until he was called by Jesus, and encountered the Spirit of the Lord. I don’t know what the names Eldad and Medad mean but I like to think they could be translated as just “you” and “me.” As Moses said, it would be good if we were all prophets.  

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Reading 1.  Numbers 11: 25-29
Reading II. James 5: 1-6
Gospel. Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48 (whoever is not against us, is for us)

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