1st Reading – Numbers 11: 25-29
The name Numbers comes from the description of the census in chapter one of this book. The laws contained in the Book of Numbers are directed to a people on a journey through the promised land. The material contained here extends over many centuries and comes from various ancient sources. The narrative part comes from an earlier time, while the laws are probably from a much later time in Israel’s history. A part of Numbers parallels the story of Exodus, especially all the grumbling and rebelliousness. It stresses the Lord’s patience with his people as his ‘punishments’ are always balanced with God’s listening and God’s response to their needs. The purpose of any punishment is only to change their hearts and to encourage them to listen again to God’s ways of justice and care (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 660)
Although this is an ‘ancient story,’ how does it speak to you today? This story is evangelization at its best! But isn’t it too often that those close to the seat of power, relishing their privileged position, play gatekeeper to ensure that others who are not authorized don’t gain access to the coveted power? (Workbook for Lectors…, 245) It is so easy to think small, to continue doing things the same because “it’s how we’ve always done it”. God wants us to be open to see things in a new way! “God is trying to help us to see ourselves the way he sees us already, “ (Coutinho, How Big is Your God?, 65). Is there anything that is holding you back from allowing God’s spirit to be bestowed in you?
2nd Reading – James 5: 1-6
This reading should wake us all up this Sunday morning! This is the tenth exhortation in James’ letter. In vivid, powerful language it calls for all to be people of social justice. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, James is reminding us in no uncertain terms that God hears the cries of the poor and the abused. As people of God we need to listen and respond also. Poverty, of course, is not good in itself, but it can foster a reliance on God. Here is what St. Basil (329-379), church father, said regarding our attitude to another’s need: “If everyone kept only what is necessary for ordinary needs and left the surplus to the poor, wealth and poverty would be abolished . . . the bread you store belongs to the hungry. The cloak kept in your closet belongs to those who lack clothing. The money you keep hidden away belongs to the needy. Thus you oppress as many people as you are in a position to help.” (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year B, 661-662)
What might be most challenging is how the passage ends: he offers you no resistance. Who is he? We could look at it as the oppressed not resisting. What if he were God? God did give us free will and allows us to make our choices, good or bad. Challenging words . . . how do you grapple with all of this?
The Gospel — Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Hyperbole is a common human way to communicate – especially when something is very important to us – or we want to draw attention to something: “She asked me a million questions!” “It scared the life right out of me!” “I waited in line forever!”
Jesus like so many teachers of his day also used this kind of language to get everyone’s attention. Here with the talk of cutting off body parts, Jesus is trying to emphasize how important it is to live God’s way of love and justice in order to be fully healthy and alive – AND how terrible evil is: it is as tragic as losing a hand or foot or eye! (Living Liturgy, Cycle B. 217)
Gehenna with its unquenchable fire was a real place in Jesus’ day. It was the Valley of Ben-Hinnon just south of Jerusalem. There Ahaz (a former king) had sinned in burning his sons as a sacrifice to the pagan god, Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3) Later, Ahaz’s grandson, Manasseh also sacrificed his sons by fire (2 Chronicles 33:6). The sight became infamous for sin and depravity being called the Slaughter Valley (see Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6; 39:35). King Josiah reformed things and put an end to such awful practices and declared this valley to be unclean (2 Kings 23:10). Later, the place was used as a garbage dump where Jerusalem’s refuse was burned and rotted: “where the worm dies not and the fire is never extinguished.” (Celebration, September 28, 2003).
Jesus is inclusive, not exclusive. “Jesus cares only that his ministry of love, mercy, and compassion continue. He welcomes anyone who offers these works of mercy and justice. Attitudes of “holier than thou” do not serve God’s people. Christians are to support all efforts to extend compassion and love to others. Karl Rahner coined the term, “anonymous Christian” to describe anyone who lived Jesus’ message of love and justice even if they did not ‘call’ themselves Christians (or Catholic)(Birmingham, Word and Worship, 663). We must allow God’s Spirit in and not be resistant to what God might be working on in our lives.
Desmond Tutu, an Anglican Archbishop from South Africa: When you are in the presence of the Spirit, it is like sitting in front of a fire that does not burn you, but suffuses you with its qualities – its warmth, glow, and color. And, as you are there, in the presence of the Spirit, you also become suffused with the Spirit’s attributes of compassion, gentleness and love. You are loved and you are held in that love.” (Preaching Resources, Sept. 28, 2003)