Numbers 11:25-29 / Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 / James 5:1-6 / Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
While the first reading last week was prophetic about the coming of the Christ, this week the reading foretells something of the Church that will be established by our Lord. When critics are jealous that the “spirit” of God has led some outside the designated number to prophesy, Moses answers, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!” You might ask, how is the hope of Moses realized in the Church?
First, when baptized, a Christian becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. In Confirmation, we are given a fuller share in that Spirit. We are commissioned to proclaim the Good News. The Spirit of God breathes life into us and implants the gift of faith. All the sacraments are given their efficacy by the Holy Spirit.
Second, by definition, every Catholic is charismatic. Every believer is a Spirit-filled prophet of the Lord. When a child is baptized, he or she is anointed and the priest or deacon prays, “As Christ was anointed Priest, PROPHET, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” The Catholic community of faith is that nation of prophets for which Moses longed. We have nothing that is not given us by God. We belong to him and are to be about his business, giving him glory in all things.
Third, when we think of prophets the popular mindset is of people who can foretell the future. While this is certainly part of it, the better definition of a prophet is that he is one who tells the truth. Christ was the one acclaimed as the Way and the TRUTH and the Life. Remade into God’s image and in the likeness of Christ, we are to communicate God’s Word to a waiting and sometimes resistant world.
Fourth, a prophet must be imbued with courage because he stands as a sign of contradiction to a world that does not know God and sometimes does not want to know. When we look at the long line of biblical prophets, we see men and women who often suffered much, even from their own, because of the truths they espoused. It is easier to compromise and to “go with the flow.” It is always harder to swim against the tide of indifference and sin. Following Jesus, we can expect a share in his Cross. Speaking to how we reject the prophets in our midst, James writes in the second reading, “You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.” Nevertheless, this pattern can be turned around in Christ. There is hope.
Fifth, are we genuine prophets or false prophets? James also speaks about this, challenging his listeners regarding that which they most treasure and how they treat the worker in regard to his just wages. Like Christ’s threats of Gehenna, he is critical of those who oppress others, writing, “Gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire.” We need to ask important questions of ourselves. Are we the nation of prophets we were called to be? Do we belong to God or does someone or something else own us? Do we believe “in my country, right or wrong,” or would we try to make it right? Do we put a higher premium upon peace and toleration than truth and virtue? Do we belong MORE to the Republican or Democrat Party than to God and his Church? Does work and play take precedence over the Lord? Are we the same Christians at work and home that we claim to be in the pew at Mass? How committed are we to justice, civil rights, religious liberty, and the sanctity of life? Do we pray and worship as if God is really listening? Do we sense God moving us to prayer and witness? Have we opened the windows of our souls to his energetic presence?
Notice in the reading that the Spirit of God was mediated. We read, “The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. 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.” This reminds me of the story where Peter encounters a crippled man at the gate of the temple, “Peter said, ‘I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.’ Then Peter took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles grew strong. He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God” (Acts 3:6-8). He in turn would witness by his actions to the power of God in his life. Christ has extended something of himself, his spirit, upon those who believe in him. Through the sacraments of initiation, he literally gives a share in his life. We become adopted sons and daughters to the Father. Through the ordination of his apostles as the first bishop-priests, he gave us the Eucharist and the ministry of reconciliation. Never before had God given such authority to men. Through apostolic succession, this wondrous SPIRIT is passed on from generation to generation and around the world. We are given different gifts, but all share of the same source, the same Spirit.
As with our Lord’s disciples, a few of the elders were jealous that two outside their number were touched by God’s power. But the Spirit of God cannot be contained and God works where he wills. I suppose this is a good reminder never to blaspheme or curse against the Holy Spirit when we find him active outside our ranks or in unexpected persons, places or things. Certainly it is a prime motivation for ecumenism after Vatican II.
The responsorial psalm alerts us that the message of a prophet always has substance. We do not follow vague platitudes. God has shown us his love by giving us his law or commandments. The prophet exhorts others, through word and witness, to fidelity. We must be obedient stewards of God. Of course, if our role as prophets is to be genuine then we must do all we can to root out hypocrisy. The psalm states, “Though your servant is careful of them (the ordinances of God), very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults! From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and innocent of serious sin.” The attached response was, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” When we sang the verse, were we telling the truth? Does God’s law give us joy or do we fight against it? By the way, this means in every place, from the bedroom to the voter’s booth at election time. It includes the things we do in public and in secret.
The Gospel has Jesus employing Hebraic hyperbole to emphasize the severity of sin. Nothing should be done to harm faith. Jesus says, “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.” As with the elders and Moses, the disciples complained to Jesus about one outside their number who was used by God. He exorcised demons in Jesus’ name. Our Lord rebukes them for this and says, “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.” Love of God and charity toward neighbor are the most essential traits of a Christian prophet.
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