26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept.

30, 2012 (Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) This whole incident in Numbers arose because the people had complained about not having any meat to eat. Moses turned to the Lord to ask why he had been singled out to lead this people. Moses said “I cannot carry this people by myself.” With that the Lord told him to gather seventy elders around him so he would not have to carry the burden alone. The Lord also said that they would have meat for a month “until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you!” In order for the seventy elders to help Moses carry the burden, they had to have some of the Lord’s spirit which was already on Moses and it is that which makes up Sunday’s first reading. The spirit is pictured as though it could be doled out to the others. Some commentators compared it to taking a fire from a lit candle, which does not diminish the original, but simply spreads it around. On the other hand, Moses remained the sole authority within and without the camp until he died. The inclusion of Eldad and Medad who also received the spirit and were enabled to prophesy leads Moses to rejoice that they too have received a portion of spirit: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” The story provides a nice backdrop for the Gospel reading, which involves someone expelling demons, who was not one of the disciples. Jesus does not stop him because he says “whoever is not against us is for us.” The fact that John wanted to prevent the non-member from exorcising seems to fit John’s portrayal elsewhere in the New Testament, since he was not known for his warm and fuzzy

feelings towards outsiders. Like Joshua in the Numbers incident who wanted Moses to act against Eldad and Medad, John wants Jesus to act against the non-member of the group. Moreover, Jesus says anyone who gives one of his followers even a cup of water because they belong to Christ “will surely not lose his reward.” Mark adds to this section a warning to any who would cause any of these little ones to sin. The Greek word for “to sin” is skandalizo which means to cause to stumble or trip, but the serious nature of the offense against “these little ones” calls for serious punishment (“be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck”). The little ones are generally regarded as weaker members of the community of disciples. Throughout these verses, wherever “cause to sin” is used it employs the Greek verb skandalizo, which as we saw above could also mean to stumble or trip. In these latter cases, it is the individual who brings about his or her own ruin. If taken literally, many more disciples ought to be maimed, crippled and blind. But the exhortation means not to sin either with the hand or with the foot or with the eye. It does not mean we ought to maim ourselves for sinning. The many who do not belong to “the group” who continue to heal in the name of Jesus should take heart from this reading. They know who they are. They exorcise demons and reconcile the sinner and heal the suffering in a variety of ways. There will always be those, like John or like Joshua, who object, but there will always be Jesus who says: “whoever is not against us is for us.” There’s a lesson there for every generation of believers. Fr. Lawrence Hummer