26th of the Year, 26th Sep 21
As so often, the teaching to be found in today`s scripture readings is multi-faceted and generous though it might seem in what our Lord says in Mark 9 to be a touch heavy-handed! We get insights into Generosity of Spirit, Christian Hospitality and ourselves as stumbling-blocks or the opposite!
In the first place we look back at the first references to prophecy in the Old Testament found in Numbers 11 where we find Moses not so much as a man of the Law, which he most certainly was but rather a man of the Spirit of God and it is a spirit that he shares with the seventy elders or prophets who prophesy in a regular way outside of the Tent of Meeting but also on Eldad and Medad, apparently a couple of mavericks who carry the disturbance of prophecy within the tent. Contrary to what we, and those prophets of old, expect we find Moses extolling them in his delight and declaring that he wishes that all God`s people would be such prophets for in them there is no limiting of the Law but rather the “Moses Effect” is shown not so much a grim repressive legalism but an outburst of freedom, energy and illumination by the Spirit. As we see in the responsorial psalm for today the Law of Moses is celebrated in this and many other psalms as light and life to those who follow the Law of Moses and so the more it is followed the more it is loved issuing in the joy and freedom of a prophetic way of life that creatively follows the promptings of the Spirit of God. The borders of law are opened up.
Jesus, as we find in the Gospel reading from chapter 9 verses 38 and following, shows unconcern about borders! Mark records that John had complained to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stops him, because he was not following us.” The reply of Jesus came as something of a shock when he replied, “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. Of course, many of the utterances of Jesus cause scandal to his hearers because of the tolerance and boundless mercy that he alone upholds and teaches.
Sadly, contrasting with the generous and loving teaching of Jesus there are those whose scandalous teaching is opposite to that of Jesus undermining the faith of others yet imagining they are in the right and being truly prophetic. The story of the mill-stone is used so often as a point of accusation instead of teaching the way of self-examination. Those of us who are preachers need to remind ourselves, constantly, that we are preaching to ourselves as much as to anyone else. In our pride and perceived Christian knowledge we can easily become stumbling-blocks to the simple faithful and an evil influence on the young perhaps by failing children by being cold and indifferent. Through all the ages we sinners have been subject to addictions of various kinds, maybe alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, power or a besetting sin that drags us down and that we seek to hide! Pope Francis, some months ago, expressed his concern over addiction to smart phones or the internet both of which we are conditioned to believe we cannot do without. He expressed his concern about this aspect of human ecology, when he said: “You won`t meet God sitting in front of your computer screen.” In the past Christians reached habitually for their prayer books and rosary beads filling much of their free time with prayer.
We catholic Christians whether Roman Catholic or Anglican are often less than enthusiastic about acknowledging the spread of God`s Spirit in other Christian churches or denominations, in non-Christian Religions and, also, in every living creature thus making boundaries of our own through prejudice or lack of openness which curtail the freedom of the Holy Spirit. At the same time we need to be reminded that recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit outside the Church does not mean we may neglect the work of the Holy Spirit inside the Church or compromise on the doctrines taught by Holy Mother Church under the guidance of that same Holy Spirit. It is part of the paradox of Holy Christian living.
On the hospitality front we find Jesus saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever give you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, that is to say, `because you are a follower of mine` will by no means lose the reward,” It reminds us, too, of the story of The Woman at the Well.
To sum up I am going to re-iterate some words from a meditation of the North American Salesian Missionary Fr. Rene J Butler:
St John`s idea of a sort of exclusive franchise for the disciples is rejected by Jesus. As Moses rejoiced that the gift of prophecy was not limited only to those physically present at the Tent of Meeting. Indeed St. John in his Gospel tells us that the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it will. No one can set rules for God`s choice.
He goes on to say that there are three distinct ideas in today`s reading. Any or all of them can speak to us:
1. If you feel accused by St, James, then take a good look at your life. What are you going to do to change the situation ?
2. If you find the hard demands of Jesus challenging, then take a good look at your life. What measures will you take to avoid your “besetting” sin ?
3. If you feel filled with the Spirit, than take a good look at your life. What are you going to do to let the Spirit live and act in and through your life ?
Let us remember the words of the response to today`s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 19):
“The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.”