Theme: God’s choice
Thomas Aquinas once remarked, ‘beware of person of one point of view!’ Narrowness, intolerance or living life this way is as much an injustice to the person so trapped as it is against others. To live in such an insular atmosphere wherein reality is interpreted narrowly is to willingly forfeit the richness which plurality and diversity affords to the human experience. To hold suspect and unorthodox that which is different simply because it is different is to choose to live a diminished existence. Today we are invited to shake ourselves free of ‘one view mentality’ by becoming appreciative of the Spirit of God which is at work in others even in those we least expect.
First reading: Numbers 11:25-29
Anyone who has ever made a trip with young children has probably heard their share of comments and questions like these: ‘Mom, he won’t sit on his side of the car!’ ‘I am bored!’ ‘I don’t want bananas; I want a cake.’ ‘Dad, this one is looking at me!’ ‘Are we there yet?!’ Interestingly enough, Chapter eleven of the book of Numbers is replete with similar utterances from discontented travelers. A variant version of the wilderness trek, Numbers narrate details of how Israelites grumbling about food by longing for the fish, meat, cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic and onions that they had lived on while enslaved in Egypt. Ungratefully, they griped that they were tired of the manna cf. Numbers 11:6-9. The trip had become wearisome to the point that some expressed there annoyance at having left Egypt in the first place.
An easy target, Moses bore the brunt of people’s anger who in turn complained to God. When God lightened his burden by sharing responsibilities among seventy elders, some of them still found cause to criticize. Two of those upon whom God sent the Spirit, Eldad and Medad had dodged the meeting and remained in the camp. The fact that they too were endowed with the Spirit was judged irregular by likes of Joshua who wanted them stopped but Moses warned them to stop being jealousy of God’s rewards to who ever he wishes. We need to be aware that sharing God’s Spirit does not in any way diminish the same charism among us. Moses’ prayer was if “all the people of the Lord were prophets!” Numbers 11:29 is intended to alert all of us of the fact that the Spirit of God is not confined to certain persons, neither is it restricted by human protocol.
Second reading: James 5:1-6
Here is a story that illustrates the difference between charity and social justice: A huge rock rolled down a mountain and blocked the narrow curving roadway until approaching car crashed into it. Families living nearby rescue the injured and brought them into their own homes and tended to them until they were well; this is charity. Within a month, still another carload hit the same rock, villagers got together and decided how to get rid of it thus incurring social justice.
When James called upon the rich to attend to the needs of the poor, he was not recommending charity but demanding social justice by challenging the rich to share with the poor what was their due on two counts. First, being members of the same community all had to be responsible for one another. When one was in need, those who had the means to help were bound by they Christian faith to do so. Second, anything withheld from the poor was merely their justified privilege since refusing to remunerate the farmhands who had harvested fields was an affront to God who takes them as priority. James’ concern for the poor and his charges against the unjust wealthy society followed the precedent set centuries before. Similar condemnations can be found in Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and Amos 5:11; 8:4-7.
There is no book in any other literature which exposes of social justice as the Bible. We need to note that wealth per se is not being condemned here but the way wealth is distributed and the perils which surround a person who is abundantly blessed with this world’s goods cf. Luke 16:19-31. The ancient world had three main sources of wealth, namely garments, gold and silver. James threatened that in the last days each of these will rot away, leaving those who have made them the source of their security and happiness empty and alone. Today James castigated any of us who lacks the care and concern for all those among us who happen to be underprivileged. We need to pay attention not to withhold the just wages of the poor for any reason whatsoever.
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
Whether they were conscious of it or not, it seems that Jesus’ disciples had already developed an exclusive fixed plan of action when they chanced a strange man also expelling demons yet he had never been in the college of the twelve. Their quick conclusion was to stop him publicly but Jesus restrained them saying: “anyone who is not against us in with us” Mark 9:40. By means of this principle, Jesus challenged his disciples to develop an attitude of acceptance toward those who were different and to those whom they would fail to understand. The fact that the stranger was healing in the name of Jesus cf. Mark 9:38, was sufficient to make him welcome among them.
At first glance, the episode about the strange exorcist may seem disconnected action, but in actual fact there are four instances that support the same. This rare exorcist is connected to the text which precedes in Mark 9:35-37 followed by Mark 9:41 with the catchword en onomati/in my name. Other series of sayings which comprise the rest of this text are also verbally related to one another by the catchword skandalizo which means scandal, stumbling block, the act of causing another person to sin. The harsh Semitic expression about physical mutilation such as cutting off hand, foot and plucking out eye in Mark 9:43-45 instead should not be taken literally. If it were, then most of the world would be required to go through life blind and maimed. The intent of this Semitism was to underscore, in the most forceful possible manner, the necessity of avoiding sin.
Instead Gehenna which has become a metaphor for the fiery torment and eternal punishment of the wicked is simply an acronym for the Valley of Hinnon located south of the City of Jerusalem. There, Ahaz resorted to idolatry and burned his sons and an offering to the pagan god, Molech in 2Chronicles 28:3. Manasseh followed suit in 2Chronicles 33:6 and the valley became synonymous with sin and evil. When Judah’s great reformer, Josiah, became king, he put an end to human sacrifice and declared the site unclean cf. 2Kings 23:10. Thereafter Gehenna served as a dump where the City’s refuse was burned. A loathsome place of vermin and endlessly smouldering fires, Gehenna became an omen of dread against the faithless in Isaiah 66:24 and a smelly, smoky warning to sinners. In reality hell is not other people but any situation that causes segregation of others. Hell is any issue that alienates us from others and from God. Today we need to check how much it matters for each one of us when it comes to care for others. We need to be like the kindergarten child who was furiously drawing a picture of God. When her teacher told her that no one knew how God looked like, the child innocently replied: ‘They will know how God looks when I have finished!’ This should be our answer when we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to transform the world.
Indeed, Jesus’ saving ministry is not confined to certain people but is inclusive of all; equally the call to minister to others in Jesus’ name is not limited to only the twelve Apostles or even to seventy two disciples but extended to anyone who is willing to hear and respond to it in Jesus’ name. James understood that the demands of the gospel required that every disciple be willing to take the time to read the ‘needs of others’ and act upon them. Today we need to allow Jesus to remove the devil of carelessness from each one of us so that we can grow as a caring people.