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 (M Birmingham, W & W 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 on 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.” (M 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.
The cross is a symbol of our salvation. Each time we look upon and venerate the cross; each time we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit, we profess our willingness to take Jesus seriously, to live the radical Gospel fully, and to die for our beliefs, our values and commitment to God, to Jesus and one another (Sanchez, PD, NCR for 8/29-9/11).
1st Reading – Numbers 21:4b-9
What logic is behind this reading and command? Why should a victim have to look at that which can kill them? The reason becomes a bit clearer if we look at the meaning of the snakebites which is the same thing as looking at the nature of sin, since the people had revolted against God and Moses. They were not even grateful any longer for the free bread that came to them from heaven. God sent the snakebites to punish them – not vindictively but as a ‘reality-check’ –considering how their sin and ingratitude had distanced them from God, the source of life – discovering later in their pain that they were suffering, lonely and God-forsaken. The only answer is to open the door again, and so they do that. They own up to their sin and ask for God’s help once again. Moses is told to make a serpent out of bronze, and so he does. This serpent has no sting; they can look on it without fear and without death. They can face their wrong-doing knowing that it has been taken up into the splendor of God’s on-going love which has brought them out of slavery to new life – a love that will continue to lead them if they but follow. (Fr. John Foley, S.J., “Spirituality of the Readings, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)
2nd Reading – Philippians 2: 6-11
This early Christian hymn that Paul is using should help us to appreciate how freely God gives his love to us and how completely this love is revealed in Christ Jesus, our Lord – the only one that is worthy and safe to be called Lord.
This is the Paschal Mystery: that by emptying ourselves, we may rise to new life. Ronald Rolheiser in the Holy Longing says, “Like all things temporal, our understanding of God and the church too must constantly die and be raised to new life. Our intentions may be sincere and noble, but so too were Mary Magdala’s on Easter morning when she tried to ignore the new reality of Jesus so as to cling to what had previously been, “ (p. 162). What needs to be emptied in you to bring about new life?
In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he talks a lot about this emptying as a way of detachment. In making personal decisions, we should pray to get to the point where we could go either way in deciding (emptying ourselves). That way, we are truly leaving it in God’s hands to make the decision, and thus doing God’s will. He says, “One strives earnestly not to desire that money or anything else, except when one is motivated solely by the service of God our Lord; in such a way that the desire to be able to serve God our Lord better is what moves one to take or reject any object whatsoever,” (#155).
The Gospel – John 3: 13-17
God: all life begins with God; it is God who sent Jesus.
Loved the world: Here is the motive for all of God’s activity – God is love!
Gave his only Son: God gave in two senses – first, in the Incarnation God’s Word, God’s Message became flesh in the world; second, this Son in whom God is perfectly present endured death, the ‘lifting up’ on the cross.
Believes: God asks us to respond to his love – believe in Jesus. This believing in John’s gospel is always an entering into a deep and abiding personal relationship with Jesus.
Not perish/eternal life: God’s plan is NOT for human destruction, condemnation, or punishment. God wishes us to trust his love so that this love can lead us to an eternal life where death is destroyed, wrong is righted, and peace/shalom is established forever. This is the Good News we exalt on today’s feast.
(“Working with the Word”, http://liturgy.slu.edu)
In Elizabeth Johnson’s Consider Jesus, she compares 2 theologians’ views on the cross. Jurgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, was a prisoner of war during WWII and wrote The Crucified God. His view of salvation is that out of love, God freely chooses to be affected by what affects others, so that when people sin and suffer this influences the divine being. He saw the cross as an event between God and God. While Jesus suffers on the cross, both Father and Son are suffering, though in different ways. Each suffers the loss of the other, yet they have never been so deeply united in one love. In their common loving will to save the world, regardless of the cost, what is revealed is the Holy Spirit, who is the Love of the Father and Son. At Jesus’ death his Spirit, God’s Love, is let loose on the world. Only if all disaster is within God can God affect salvation. (Think of all the current disasters today and how God may reveal Godself in them.)
Compare Moltmann with Edward Schillebeeckx, a Belgian Roman Catholic who is a Dominican and contributed greatly to Vatican II. He says God wills life and not death, joy and not suffering, both for Jesus and for everyone else. The cross reveals the tension between God and sinful humanity. God, as pure positivity, enter into compassionate solidarity with Jesus on the cross, keeping faith with him, not abandoning him. God is present in the mode of absence. He keeps vigil until human freedom has played itself out and Jesus is destroyed. Then God overcomes the evil of death through the act of resurrection, conquering and undoing the negativity wrought by human sinfulness. We are saved not by the cross but despite it
Neither theologian is right or wrong…it is all just thinking aloud about knowing God. Jesus is the Compassion of God. Jesus is in solidarity with us, and we are all united with God in Jesus by being in compassionate solidarity with all those who suffer.