Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
26th Sunday of OT, Year B
September 27, 2015
Num 11:25-29, Ps 19, James 5:1-6, Mk 9:38-43.45.47-48
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
We encounter in today’s Gospel a big contrast and a big surprise. The contrast is between those who are working for God and those who are not. As the Lord says, some are “for” Him; some are “against” Him. The surprise is that those who might seem to be working for the Lord in fact may not be, and those who seem not to be working for Him in fact may be. Insofar as all of us are here because we want to be working for the Lord, because we want to hear him say one day to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” we need to examine what the Lord Jesus says today and apply it to our own actions, to see whether we really are working for him or against him.
We start with God’s collaborators. God wants all of us on his team, working for him and his kingdom. In the first reading, Moses says, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” The Lord wants all of us to preach him, to spread his truth, to invite all others into the circle of his incredible love. He’s said this to us in many ways. His last words before ascending to the Father were “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News!” (Mk 16:15). He called us to be the Light of the World, reflecting the light of his truth and the warmth of his love to others (Mt 5:14). He said that those who are great in his kingdom “will keep my words and teach others to do the same” (Mt 5:19) Proclaiming this Gospel, as Jesus told us, is not just saying, “Lord, Lord,” but “doing God’s will” (Mt 7:21) and he wants to help us to seek, find, treasure and do his will.
What we see in today’s readings is that sometimes those on the Lord’s team aren’t wearing the team uniforms and those who are often are not actually helping the team win. In the first reading today, Eldad and Medad were not among the original seventy elders chosen to prophesy in the name of the Lord to the Israelites. But the Lord filled them with his Spirit and they began to proclaim God’s word throughout the camp. The still young and immature Joshua, who would become Moses’ successor, objected, “Moses, stop them!” Imagine: Joshua wanted to have them stop preaching about the Lord! Who was working for the Lord here and who was not? Moses told Joshua there was no reason to be jealous. God wants all to be prophets, and always works outside of our cozy parameters. Even those we think are not the ones chosen by the Lord to be his ambassadors might in fact be his emissaries and coworkers.
We learn the same lesson from the Gospel. Soon after the failure of the disciples to cast out a demon from a young boy (while the Lord was being transfigured before Peter, James and John on the mountain) and the Lord castigated their generation for its lack of faith, the disciples caught someone who wasn’t among their number casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and St. John said that he and the other disciples had tried to stop him. Who was working for the Lord and who against him here? The disciples were the ones who were supposed to be the Lord’s collaborators, but like Joshua, they still hadn’t figured out God’s ways. He came to set prisoners free, to defeat Satan once and for all. But the still-immature disciples wanted to stop someone from casting out devils, from doing the Lord’s work because, essentially, they were more concerned with what they wanted to be their exclusive prerogatives in God’s kingdom than in accomplishing his work. None of us should ever think we have a monopoly on the name, mission, message and power of Jesus. We should never find God’s action in others a threat, but rather something to marvel in and praise him for. We should of course want to help them to come to the fullness of the truth about God revealed to us by Christ in His Church, but we should rejoice that others, at whatever stage of revelation they’ve received, would be corresponding to the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit. We repeat with Moses, “Would that all God’s people were prophets!”
Pope Francis has reiterated this point on his apostolic pilgrimage. In Washington, at the Canonization of St. Junipero Serra, he said, “’We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and for the world.’ It is the responsibility to proclaim the message of Jesus. For the source of our joy is ‘an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of our own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.’ Go out to all, proclaim by anointing and anoint by proclaiming. This is what the Lord tells us today. He tells us: A Christian finds joy in mission: Go out to people of every nation! A Christian experiences joy in following a command: Go forth and proclaim the good news! A Christian finds ever new joy in answering a call: Go forth and anoint! Jesus sends his disciples out to all nations. To every people. We too were part of all those people of two thousand years ago. Jesus did not provide a short list of who is, or is not, worthy of receiving his message and his presence. Instead, he always embraced life as he saw it. In faces of pain, hunger, sickness and sin. In faces of wounds, of thirst, of weariness, doubt and pity. Far from expecting a pretty life, smartly-dressed and neatly groomed, he embraced life as he found it. It made no difference whether it was dirty, unkempt, broken. Jesus said: Go out and tell the good news to everyone. Go out and in my name embrace life as it is, and not as you think it should be. Go out to the highways and byways, go out to tell the good news fearlessly, without prejudice, without superiority, without condescension, to all those who have lost the joy of living. Go out to proclaim the merciful embrace of the Father. Go out to those who are burdened by pain and failure, who feel that their lives are empty, and proclaim the folly of a loving Father who wants to anoint them with the oil of hope, the oil of salvation. Go out to proclaim the good news that error, deceitful illusions and falsehoods do not have the last word in a person’s life. Go out with the ointment that soothes wounds and heals hearts. Mission is never the fruit of a perfectly planned program or a well-organized manual. Mission is always the fruit of a life that knows what it is to be found and healed, encountered and forgiven. Mission is born of a constant experience of God’s merciful anointing. … So let us go out, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. … We are here today, we can be here today, because many people wanted to respond to that call. They believed that ‘life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort.’ We are heirs to the bold missionary spirit of so many men and women, … a chain of witnesses who have made it possible for the good news of the Gospel to be, in every generation, both ‘good’ and ‘news.’” He added during the conclusion of his homily at Madison Square Garden on Friday, “’The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ And we, as Christians, are witnesses to this.” And in Philadelphia yesterday morning he said, “One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, … but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.
All of what the Holy Father has been reminding us is that even though all of us are called to be prophets, to be witnesses of the Light, to be joyful messengers of challenging proposals first made to us by Christ, not all God’s people are in fact prophets. There are many who rather than saying and showing, as we heard in today’s Psalm, “The law of the Lord is perfect… refreshing, trustworthy, enduring, true, just” and gives “wisdom to the simple,” proclaim that it does precisely the opposite. Jesus says quite strongly that there are those who are “against” Him, those who not only do not work for him, but actively try to oppose him. We see many of these opponents in the Gospel: Satan in the desert; some of the Scribes and Pharisees during Jesus’ public ministry; Herod the Great at Jesus’ birth; Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas at Jesus’ death; even, for a very short time, St. Peter, whom Christ called Satan and told to get behind him when he rejected the possibility that the Lord would suffer.
Those, however, were not the ones Jesus specified in this episode as those who were against him. He referred, rather, to those who give scandal. Those who are against him are the false prophets, who teach others, especially the young, not about how to know, love and serve the Lord but rather how to sin. Such is Jesus’ love for his children that he passionately warns everyone who harms little ones through scandal to know what punishment they should expect: “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and thrown into the sea.” The word “scandal” in the original language of the Bible meant two things: something that causes another to fall and something that is an obstacle. Applied to the matters of faith, scandal is something that either causes another to sin against God (i.e., fall from God) or something that prevents the access of another (an obstacle) to the kingdom of God.
Many of those in the Church today, who seem to be on the Lord’s team, often turn out to be false prophets, erroneous teachers of others, rather than those who pass on to them the truth. Jesus wants us to be brutal in cutting out of our lives not only what leads us to sin but what leads others to sin. And today he wishes to give us the help and the motivation to do so. We could easily find examples of those whose deeds others astray: bishops and priests who haven’t walked the walk; celebrities from the world of music, movies and sports whose example draws the young into drugs, into using others in relationships, into the worship of status; educators, who, presumably unintentionally, teach young people in public schools about premarital sex, homosexuality, abortion and other topics in ways that are totally contrary to what God wants; politicians who pretend that their duty to the Constitution trumps their duties to God. If it were possible to buy stock in a millstone business, now would be the time to buy!
But I’d like to make Jesus’ teaching much more concrete — on this concluding day of the World Meeting on Families in Philadelphia — by mentioning the role of parents, godparents, grandparents and older siblings, including all of us in the Church’s family, as religious sisters and fathers, to be true rather than false teachers, to be prophets rather than scandals. It would be easy to focus on certain actions to see whether those in these circumstances facilitate or frustrate the lessons God wants the young taught: does our example inspire or discourage young people to pray, to come to Mass, to go to confession, to learn the faith, to fight against sin, to sacrifice ourselves to care for the poor and needy, to use appropriate language, to be honest, to stay faithful to the Lord in terms of love, sex, marriage and family, to forgive and give people second chances? We can also go beyond individual actions or habits to look at the “big picture” and whether, by the entire orientation of our life, we are motivating or dissuading the young to become true saints, to love God with all their mind, heart, soul and strength. The young learn from those who are older what’s really important life and so we need to focus on what we’re teaching, not just by our words, but by our example.
The best way to learn to be a true and good prophet, to be “with the Lord” rather than “against” him, is to learn from Jesus himself. At Jesus’ time there was a lot of hypocrisy. He pointed to it when he said that they should listen to the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees who sit on Moses’ seat, but not follow their example, because their example was a clear violation of the words of God they spoke. Jesus, on the other hand, was full of integrity, and was someone who never merely said, “Do what I say,” but always “follow me.” And he had set his goal, his eyes, on always doing the will of the Father who sent him, of leading others on the way of sanctity, which is the way of the Cross, all the way to heaven. In order to be the type of true prophet that God wants us to be, we, too, need not merely to mouth the words of the faith, but to be able to say to the young “follow me!,” and set out not for worldly goals and ambitions but on the clear path set out by Jesus and the Church he founded. We need to toss from our lives whatever is not fitting for that journey, so that others, in following our footsteps, may come to God.
“Would that all God’s people were prophets!” Would that all people brought others to Christ by their actions! The Lord would not be calling us to be his prophets in word and deed unless he were planning to give us all the help we need to live up to that vocation. After having heard him in Sacred Scripture today, and in anticipation of receiving His body and blood inside us, let us ask him to heal our wounded eyes, or sinful hands, or scandalous feet, so that every part of us — and the lives of those whom he has entrusted to us — may be “with Him” in this life and in the next.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 NM 11:25-29
Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses,
the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders;
and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied.Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad,
were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp.
They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent;
yet the spirit came to rest on them also,
and they prophesied in the camp.
So, when a young man quickly told Moses,
“Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp, ”
Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses’aide, said,
“Moses, my lord, stop them.”
But Moses answered him,
“Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”
Responsorial Psalm PS 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Though your servant is careful of them,
very diligent in keeping them,
Yet who can detect failings?
Cleanse me from my unknown faults!
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant;
let it not rule over me.
Then shall I be blameless and innocent
of serious sin.
R. The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Reading 2 JAS 5:1-6
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
Alleluia CF. JN 17:17B, 17A
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Your word, O Lord, is truth;
consecrate us in the truth.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel MK 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
At that time, John said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.
Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”