Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The Book of Numbers is the source of the first reading for this weekend. Numbers is the fourth book in the sequence of the Bible as the Bible now appears. It is therefore the fourth book in the series of five books called the “Pentateuch,” borrowing its name from the Greek word for “five.” These five books also are called in Hebrew the “Torah.”
The Pentateuch, including Numbers, concentrates upon the Hebrew people’s long and difficult trek across the Sinai Peninsula in search of the Promised Land. Moses led the people in this demanding journey.
In the incident told in this reading, God inspired not only Moses but 70 elders, or wise and experienced men among the people. Then, two other men came onto the scene. They had not been among the seventy. Yet God’s spirit also inspired them. They too began to prophesy.
How could anyone outside Moses and the 70 elders presume to speak with God’s authority? Moses refused to silence these two men.
This weekend’s second reading is from the Epistle of James. James is a relatively common name in the New Testament. Several important men involved in the foundation of Christianity had this name. One was the presumed foster brother of Jesus, a son from an earlier marriage of Joseph, or another close relative. (Jesus had no blood siblings.)
As is usual in the New Testament, the identity of the author is not given in any detail. The writings are not about the authors, but instead they are about Jesus.
This reading frankly reminds us of the impermanence and, in the end, the uselessness of material things.
It further reminds us that the lure of material things can become nothing less deadly than a rapidly progressing cancer if we succumb to it.
Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. John, an apostle, approaches Jesus with the news that strangers are expelling demons, invoking the name of Jesus as their authority. Are they authentic? Must they not be halted?
Jesus then says that anyone who truly believes in what Jesus is preaching, and therefore believes in Jesus, must be accepted.
The Lord then continues. His disciples must give water to the thirsty because they belong to Christ. Otherwise, it is a matter of leading the innocent astray, and dreadful punishments await those who lead the innocent astray.
Always in reading the Gospels, it is important to realize that these four great fundamental documents of Christianity came not from the actual time of Jesus, but from the Christian community as it existed several decades after Jesus.
When the Gospels were written, years after Jesus, this Christian community, now called the church, had formed. It hardly was as organized as it later became or as large as it was to be. But, it definitely had formed.
In other words, there was an accumulation of people of like mind and faith. However, as is inevitable in human gatherings, some people tried to assert themselves over others.
The Gospel this weekend calls us away from self-interest and struggle. God empowers people to believe, to understand, and to love, by submitting to the divine will.
Without God, we are greatly impoverished. Divine grace is our wealth. Grace comes only after our total commitment to God. If we offer ourselves completely in faith, God’s grace lavishly comes to us.
The messages about newcomers is not that God’s call, to Moses or the apostles, only was incidental, and that others speak in God’s name upon their own whim but with authority and knowledge nevertheless. Rather, it is a call to us to be humble and to trust not in ourselves but instead to put all trust in God.
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