Sometimes the Gospel is meant to comfort us, to bring us some peace, to renew us in God’s love and care for us. Other times, the Gospel is meant to challenge us, to bring about some change in us, to push us toward that greatness for which we were created as human beings made in the image and likeness of God. I certainly find our readings today to be challenging—for myself and for us as a community—but not in a way that’s immediately apparent.
The opening message in today’s Gospel passage and accompanying 1st Reading seem obvious enough: that what matters is the work of God, not who’s doing it or who get credit for it, and who’s considered worthy or able to do it in the first place. Eldad and Medad were to receive the spirit, but Joshua whines to Moses because they were not in the gathering with the rest but back at the camp when they start prophesying. Moses shuts him down with that great line, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” And in the Gospel some random dude is out actually driving out demons in Jesus’ name. But John gets all bent out of shape, telling Jesus that he shouldn’t be doing that because “he does not follow us.” [Notice he says “us” to Jesus and not “you,” as if the Apostles have any power on their own.] Of course Jesus says, “Do not prevent him…For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Turf wars. They’re bound to happen in big or little ways. They’re part of our fallen humanity that Jesus came to redeem. Today’s challenge is a call to go beyond that, and to keep focus on the mission. You know—just by way of example—sometimes in parish life younger people want to plug in and help out and use their gifts, but sometimes they are made to feel unwelcome in established groups because they might have a different perspective or see something in a new way that’s not “the way we’ve always done it” or they simply don’t feel valued and accepted. Now, I’m not trying to indict any certain person or group here, I’m just saying that things like this happen, and we’re reminded today to be vigilant against that. In general, I do get the sense in this community that people genuinely understand that anyone can authentically do the work/the mission of Christ. So while the turf war challenge is present in our Scriptures here, I don’t think that’s what makes them challenging for us today.
Considering these readings, the question that’s been running through my head all week is not, “Do we tend to want to try to keep others from participating in the mission?” The bigger—and more fundamental—question that I have is, “Don’t we rather have the tendency to prefer/to want other people to be engaged in the mission, and so not worry so much about taking it up ourselves?” Even though Eldad and Medad were not at the gathering, they were chosen to receive a share in the spirit, and so the spirit rested on them and the spirit moved them.
Brothers and sisters, the Spirit came to rest on us in Baptism and Confirmation, when God called us by name and called us to mission. Rather than want to keep our share of the spirit and mission for ourselves, do we act as if we want it at all? This is an indictment first and foremost on me, as I look to grow, weak as I am, as a missionary disciple—as Pope Francis and others have renewed this call to all in the Church. Do I pick up the mission each day to “drop the nets” and follow Christ; to share Jesus with others; to help make the love and mercy of God known; to help others to know who they are in Christ, and the life that Christ offers to them? This is part of what it means to be made for greatness…because what could be greater?!?
Yet we know that there are so many things that draw us away from a lived relationship with God, a relationship that by its very nature is meant to be shared. These things, by the grace of God, we’re called to set aside. Jesus says, “If your eye…your hand…your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.” What about a relationship? What about our iPhones? What about our schedules? What about all our stuff? Our passage from the letter of St. James warns against putting our trust in things that do not endure.
I love what Bishop Thomas said at the Evening Prayer service the night before he was installed as our bishop last October. He said, “If we take to heart, if we really believe we have a Father in heaven who loves us beyond our imagining, then such belief, such conviction, changes the way we see ourselves, others and the world. Believing in the Father’s love enables us to truly live out our Baptism, to reform our own lives, to trust and to believe in Christ, His Gospel and the Church, and to become the radical disciples the Church and the world so desperately need. Living as authentic children of God can convert hearts and minds, transform a family, edify coworkers, rekindle the lukewarm, and inspire schoolmates.”
At the end of each Mass, we’re told to “go,” to take up the mission once again. The full impact of what we do here is measured by what we do out there. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” Would that all the people of the Lord were witnesses! Would that all the people of the Lord were missionary disciples! Pray God, may it be so!
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