Sunday, September 27, 2009

Would That All Of God's People Spoke In His Name!

In today’s First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) the LORD told Moses to choose seventy elders, to whom he would grant his Spirit, the same Spirit he had granted to Moses. When the elders received the Spirit, they began to prophesy. They did not do this by natural or human means, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, had stayed in the camp, but they also began to prophesy. So, when a young man went to Moses and told him, Joshua, Moses’ aide, was concerned. Perhaps he thought that Moses was going to lose his authority. Or he may have been concerned that Eldad and Medad had not received the Holy Spirit, but some other spirit. He went to Moses and said, Moses, my lord, stop them!”

Moses was not disturbed. He was happy that these men had received God’s Spirit too. He knew that they were speaking on God’s behalf. That is what the word “prophesy” really means. These men were not predicting the future. That is something a prophet does only when God assigns them that task, sometimes to warn the people of danger, sometimes to encourage them as they journey toward the land of promise. They were praising God, and encouraging the people to praise God, too. It is the Holy Spirit who gave them this power. Moses had no reason to be jealous of his gift of prophesy. He was happy to share it with the 68 who came to the Tent where the presence of God abided, and just as happy to share it with the two who had stayed behind in the camp. His response was “Would that the LORD might bestow his Spirit on them all!

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In today’s Second Reading, (James 5:1-6), James speaks to the well-to-do people. He warns about the punishment that would come upon the rich. He does not call on them to change their ways, to escape the judgment of God. He speaks about the fate that will come to them.

The day will come when they will weep and wail in their misery. Their wealth has rotted away; their clothes have become moth-eaten, their gold and silver have been corroded, and that corrosion has become a testimony against them.

The message is clear that the riches of this world have no lasting value. The stain and dirt on their gold and silver is like a poison. It will be as evidence against them in front of God. The wealth of those who do not trust in God accuses them. They trusted in their riches but riches will be of no value to them. Here is a terrible picture of the last judgement. It will be like a fire that burns up their bodies. It is as if their wealth adds fuel to the flames of that fire. Instead of helping the poor, they kept all their wealth for themselves. Their crime was that they were greedy and selfish. Much of their wealth came from the poor. But they did not care about the poor. The poor suffered at the hands of the rich.

James says that the rich have heaped up wealth in the last days. The last days are the period of time between the first coming and the second coming of Jesus. The days in which we live are the last days. At the end of these last days, there will be the judgement. James has that future event in mind as well. It is as if the wealth of the rich people will increase their punishment. That will be in the day when God judges them.

James accuses the rich because they had not paid their workers. They had kept back the wages of the workers who worked in their fields. The Law of Moses says that employers must be good to their workers. They must pay the wages to the hired workers for the work that they have done. They must not delay that payment, but pay it as soon as it comes due.

If a worker suffers and cries to God, God will hear the prayer. The wrong done to the poor worker would itself cry out to God against that rich person. It is as if the coins in the rich person’s pockets cry out that they are guilty. God is the *Lord of all power. It is he who will act for the poor against the wicked rich persons. God will punish those who cause the poor to suffer.

The rich people lived in luxury and for their own pleasure. That way of life shows that they did not care about the needs of other people. They lived for themselves alone. They lived in the excess of luxury. But they were not aware of the judgment that was soon to come upon them. The farmer feeds his animals to make them fat before he kills them. The rich are just like that. They are preparing themselves for their end. They are making themselves ready for the day when God will judge them.

James says that the rich had caused the death of innocent people. The picture is of the rich taking the righteous poor to the law courts. The judges in these courts were themselves rich owners of land. So, the wealthy persons were always able to win. There was no *justice for the poor person. As a result, the courts would decide that the poor person was guilty. That often meant the death of the innocent person. It may also be that the rich, by this means, took from the poor. As a result, the poor would suffer and lack what they needed for living. As they died, the rich had in effect murdered them. The poor could not defend themselves. There was no help for them against the rich persons. They had to be patient in their suffering and put their hope and trust in God.

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In today’s gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) John asks Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he does not follow us.” John is speaking for himself and for the other disciples. If someone did not belong to their group, he should be stopped. But Jesus told his disciples not to stop anyone whose faith was working for him.

We should be glad when other people are successful, and we should not turn our backs on those who worship and serve God in a different way. Either someone is on God’s side, or against him. Those who do good deeds are on God’s side. If someone assists a follower of Christ, God will reward that person. “A cup of water” shows that the assistance might not be an important consideration. Even an apparently insignificant gesture, such as giving someone a cup of water to a thirsty person, deserves a reward.

The disciples are responsible to him for the “the little ones”, an expression which includes not only children, but recent converts to the Way of Jesus, whose faith is not yet mature. It was a common form of execution in Jesus’ time to place a millstone round the neck of criminals and cast them into the Mediterranean, or the Sea of Galilee, or some other body of water. Jesus tells his disciples that they are responsible for children and for new converts. Disciples who cause a child or a new and weak Christian to sin deserve that form of execution.

Our hands, feet and eyes can cause us to commit sins. The fruit that tempted Eve was “delightful to the eyes, and seemed delicious” (Genesis 3:6). We can go on foot or in a vehicle to a place where we are likely to commit sin. When Jesus says “If your hand or foot leads you to see cut it off, and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out”, he is not telling his disciples to maim themselves, but using vivid imagery to remind us that committing can cost us an even greater penalty – the loss of eternal life. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than to be cast into Gehenna where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24). Gehenna is the name of a valley outside Jerusalem which was used as the city dump. If you’ve ever been to a city dump, the stench is likely rising in your nostrils. It is the word the Jews used as a metaphor for the place where God would punish the wicked eternally.

But there is hope, if we follow these counsels of Jesus: "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). “It is the will of My Father that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:40)

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

"“A cup of water” shows that the assistance might not be an important consideration. Even an apparently insignificant gesture, such as giving someone a cup of water to a thirsty person, deserves a reward."

To the thirsty, a cup of water may be a very important consideration! I think we can never know what is a big help or a small help. We should just be ready to help, regardless of the kind of help needed. (And if it is more than we have at our hand for resources, then God will provide the remainder -- I have learned that upon so many occasions that I no longer have any doubts at all; I just forge ahead and expect the extra resources to show up, and they always do.)