A Reflection on the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I: Numbers 11:25-29
Responsorial Psalm: 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Reading II: James 5:1-6
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
The golden thread that runs through our readings this week is the subject of prophecy. When we think of prophecy, we tend to think in terms of telling the future; but in the biblical sense, the prophet was one who was in communion with God. When the Spirit of God came upon a prophet, he could sense the majesty of God and, at the same time, was keenly aware of the sinfulness of man and of man’s indifference to the sin around him. Indifference to sin in society was the motivation of all the Old Testament prophets. There was sometimes a sense of “telling the future” in Old Testament prophecy, but that was usually a warning: “If the present situation doesn’t change, disaster awaits; but if the situation does change, God will be merciful.”
However, sometimes false prophets arise and spread scandal leading others into sin. And those false prophets are not always found in the bible. Laws and social structures that lead to the decline of morals and corruption of religious values are all around us and can be considered false prophecy. Consider Roe versus Wade which is the law of the land in the United States and legally allows the murder of innocent children in the womb; the proliferation of pornography on the internet and in magazines that can be purchased over the counter; business practices that lead to fraud, and manipulators of public opinion who turn that public opinion away from moral values. That’s scandal!
In our first reading from the Book of Numbers, we have an example of God-inspired prophecy. Seventy elders upon whom God’s spirit descended began to prophesy, even two who were not present with the others. That apparently caused scandal to a young man who thought only those present at the event should prophesy. But Moses’ reaction was: “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets.” We could say the same today: Would that all God’s people could see the scandal around them for what it is – a temptation to turn us away from moral values and to take away the strength needed to resist the temptation. Would that all of us were truly prophets, inspired by God and by our covenantal relationship with God that we acquire through baptism.
In our second reading from the Letter of St. James entitled “Warning to the Rich”, we see the result of succumbing to those temptations. There is nothing inherently wrong with accumulating wealth as long as the wealthy share their excess with those in need. But the riches addressed in this passage are ill-gotten riches and James reminds those in possession of ill-gotten riches: “You can’t take it with you;” and God will severely punish those who succumb to the temptations of evil.
In our gospel passage from Mark, the theme of prophecy continues with a God-inspired prophet who was not one of “The Twelve.” The apostle John took exception to this prophet, but Jesus told him to leave the man alone because no one who is inspired by God can speak ill of Jesus: “For whoever is not against us is for us.” This is a warning for us against jealousy and intolerance; against a closed attitude towards others who are working in Jesus’ name and this warning may relate well to differences between Catholics and Protestants, and the differences between various Protestant faiths. If other Christian faiths are not against Jesus, then they are for him and deserve our respect; and we deserve respect from them.
But we also have a very stern warning in this passage concerning scandal and, as mentioned above, the evil that causes that scandal is all around us, and many of us have become accustomed to that evil and are indifferent to it. The prophets we read in the Old Testament were surrounded by evil and indifference to that evil as we are today, and their role was to remind the Israelites of their covenantal relationship with God and, more specifically, to point out their infidelity to that relationship – the infidelity that was manifested not only in the sins of individuals but also in the indifference of society to sin and corruption. In the gospels, a child is seen as a symbol of one who is uncorrupted and placing a child in his midst, Jesus warns us of the scandal perpetuated in society that causes the corruption of such a one.
It’s a scary warning for us because we know we can’t change the society around us. We can’t stop the scandal that comes from the sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, envy, sloth, and greed. But by our actions and the way we live our lives we can show the children that those actions are unacceptable. We can all be God-inspired prophets who do our part to change the world around us.
Author: Ric Cross