Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The Book of Numbers, the source of the first reading for this weekend, is one of the first five books of the Bible. The ancient Hebrews, and Jews today, attribute these five books, collectively called the Pentateuch, to Moses.
Jews see Moses, however, as only the human instrument through whom God spoke to the people.
Thus, these five books, in the Jewish theological mind, are the very words of God. For this reason, the Pentateuch, or the Torah, is the basis of all Jewish belief and religious practice. Even historical events, such as that mentioned in this weekend’s reading, are interpreted in a religious sense.
The message in this reading is that God’s inspiration does not necessarily follow the route that humans may suppose or prefer.
Additionally, mere humans cannot judge whether or not a person possesses God’s grace. Moses made this clear. The men discussed in the reading did not appear to be worthy messengers of God. Moses warns his contemporaries that they should not judge these men. God does not operate according to any human timetable or set of requirements.
For its second reading, the Church this weekend presents a section from the Letter to James.
All the letters are interesting, since they reveal the circumstances of Christian life several generations after Jesus. They were written years after the times remembered in the four Gospels.
The Christians living in the last third of the first century A.D. had to face the fact that some people, then, as now, a minority in the population, were wealthy. This circumstance produced for the rich not only ease but a certain sense of security.
It was easy for Christians, therefore, to assume that God especially blessed persons of wealth.
The letter corrects this thinking. Wealth is impermanent. It guarantees no ultimate security. Furthermore, it so often is a temptation. If nothing else, it distracts us from what truly matters in life, namely, being with God and building us storehouses of spiritual treasures.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Here, wealth is not the point. Instead, John is troubled by the fact that a man uses the name of Jesus to drive away demons.
How can this be? John does not know this man. The man is not within the circle of disciples. Therefore, the man cannot be authentic.
The Lord replies that obviously no enemy of the Lord would, or could, invoke the name of Jesus to accomplish anything good. The Lord states that all those of honest faith are of God.
The reading has a second part. It reminds us that the benefits, and indeed the needs, of this world may be fleeting when eternity and things of the spirit are considered.
A story is told that when Cardinal Thomas Wolsey — archbishop of York, in the time immediately prior to King Henry VIII’s break with the Church, and chancellor, or prime minister, of England for many years — was dying, he said that if he had served God as diligently as he had served the king, he would not be afraid to die.
This worldly cardinal was hardly alone among humans in looking back upon life with regret. For that matter, Wolsey was hardly the only human approaching death to realize that he squandered time on earth by running after material rainbows. He finally saw that only the spiritual endures.
The Church calls us all to realize that earthly achievements and gains one day will count for nothing. Only our nearness to God in this life will matter as we face our entries into the next life.
The readings also remind us that we are humans. We can be tempted. Temptations can be strong. We are limited. Our judgments are flawed. We need God.
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