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. Always, however, Moses has only been seen as the human instrument through whom God spoke to the people.
Thus, these five books, in Jewish theology, and in Catholic teaching, are the very words of God. So, the Pentateuch, or the Torah, is the basis of all Jewish belief and religious practice. Even historical events, such as the ones mentioned in this weekend’s reading, are interpreted in the light of this fundamental understanding.
This reading’s message is that God’s inspiration does not necessarily follow the route that humans may suppose or prefer. 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. Mere humans cannot judge whether or not a person possesses God’s grace. 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 Epistle to James. All the epistles are interesting, since they reveal the circumstances of Christian life in the generations immediately after Jesus.
The Christians living in the last third of the first century saw some people in their midst, then as now a minority in the population, who were wealthy. This circumstance produced for the rich not only ease, but a certain sense of security. This advantage of the rich tempted Christians, therefore, to assume that God especially blessed persons of wealth.
The epistle corrects this thinking. Wealth seems so desirable, but wealth is impermanent. It guarantees no ultimate security. Furthermore, it so often is a dangerous distraction. If nothing else, it obscures what truly matters in life: namely, being with God and building up storehouses of spiritual treasures. One day, when we die, earthly possessions will mean absolutely nothing.
St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. 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.
The 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 who looked back upon life with regret when they were dying. Cardinal 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 to see that earthly achievements one day will help us not at all. Only our nearness to God in this life will matter as we face the next life.
The readings remind us that we are humans. We can be tempted, and temptations can be strong. We are limited and nearsighted, our judgments imperfect. We need God.
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