Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Readings: Nm 11:25-29; Ps 19:8-14; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-48

GOD’S CALL TO HOLINESS, GENEROSITY AND
TO BE AN INSPIRATION TO ALL THOSE AROUND

  • A soldier of Alexander the Great was driving a heavily laden mule to the royal tent. The soldier, seeing that the burden was too great for the mule, took a bag from its back and carried it on his own shoulders. Alexander chanced to see the act, and was so pleased that he called the soldier over and said to him, “That bag which you have on your shoulders is filled with gold. Take it as a gift from me. It is yours; you deserve it.”

    When Alexander the mortal human being could appreciate the kindness shown to a beast and reward the soldier so richly, what will be the eternal King’s reward?

  • There is a story about a woman whose mother died when she was just a little girl. When her father came home from work, the lonely little girl would ask him to play with her. Her father would tell her he had no time and that she should go out into the street and play; then he would light his pipe, take off his shoes, put his feet up and read the newspaper. By the time the little girl grew up, she was used to the streets, and made her living there. When she died, St Peter looked to Jesus and asked, “I suppose we send her to hell?” The Lord said, “No, She deserves heaven. But go down to earth, look for the man who refused to play with her when she need him, and send him to hell!”.

    It is the duty of every person to always be a source of help and inspiration to the younger ones.

  • Once a rich but miserly parishioner consulted a priest about his discontent. The priest led him to the window “Look out there,” he said, “and tell me what you see.” “People,” answered the rich man. Then the priest led him to a mirror. “What do you see now?” he asked. “I see myself”, answered the rich man. The priest said, “In the window there is glass and in the mirror there is glass. But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver; no sooner is it added than you stop seeing others and see only yourself.”

    Likewise, James, in today’s Second Reading, is warning the selfish rich to be careful.

Today’s Liturgy is an invitation to take care of Jealousy and to beware of the habit to sin.

WHAT IS JEALOUSY?

Jealousy is an emotion, and the word typically refers to the thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear, concern and anxiety over an anticipated loss or status of something of great personal value, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness and disgust.

The difference between envy and jealousy: Envy happens when you see somebody else experiencing something you’d like to have. You get a wishful feeling inside, like you want what they have. But this feeling does not necessarily lead to jealousy. You can be envious of somebody’s situation and make common cause with them. For example, say one of your friends is doing a workout routine and has gotten into really good shape. You envy them, and thus you come up to them and ask them what their secret is, and maybe even whether you can join them and do what they do. This is an example of an envious response that leads not to jealousy, but rather to motivating, progressive thinking.

Jealousy is different; it is an altogether negative, regressive state of mind. The jealous thought says “I want what you have, and thus until I have it, you shouldn’t have it either.” This is very different from simple envy, because now the emphasis is not on you moving forward, but rather on keeping the other person back. That’s why jealousy can be so destructive and all-consuming; the jealous individual gets into a state of mind that presumes the right to control other people’s pleasure! Even if they say nothing at all, the feelings are still there, and the air becomes heavy with them.

First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29

Moses had dedicated his entire life to the service of the people, but in last years, he was overcome by discouragement. The difficulties and problems multiplied and the Israelites did nothing but complain, made demands, rebelled.

One day he confided to the Lord: “Did I conceive all these people?… I cannot do more to support the weight of a so large and unruly nation” (Num 11:10-15).

God then suggested: “Assemble seventy men from the elders and let them take their stand there with you… I shall take some of the spirit that is in you and put it in them” (Num 11:16-18).

It is at this point that our reading starts.

On the appointed day, the seventy men gathered in the tent where God used to communicate with Moses. They received the Spirit and began to prophesy. They entered, that is, into a state of frenzy and excitement, and spoke in the name of God (v. 25).

There were two old men, Eldad and Medad, who had not participated in the official ceremony, had received the same spirit and were behaving as prophets, just like the other seventy. An amazing, unexpected event for all and quite puzzling because there was no explanation for the fact that strangers had got the same gift of God, although far from the group of the elect.

Is there anything to be sad? No. There is a need to rejoice of the fact that the spirit came down also to who does not belong “to the institution.”

Someone on the other hand was concerned; he was indignant and asked Moses to intervene to stop them. The same Joshua, a leading figure among the Israelites, sided with those who wanted to restore order and hierarchies.

Moses said to him: are you jealous? Maybe all members of the people would receive the spirit and would become prophets. From this episode, the animators of the Christian communities can seize a first message: to not feel worn out and exhausted, like Moses, they should not centralize power, but all must be co-responsible members of their community, sharing with them the duties and services to perform.

The main lesson, however, concerns the condemnation of fanaticism. A fanatic is one who attacks anyone who does not think like him or does not belong to the group; one who closes his eyes to the good that others do, believing that those who are not with him or do not share his beliefs and his projects are evil and should be fought. The fanatic is dangerous because, if he fails to establish itself with reasons, he tended to have recourse to the sword, as in fact happened with Joshua.

The Spirit cannot be contained within the confines of any institution. God is free to break the mold and encourage the good everywhere. Where the good, love, peace, joy, are there is certainly the work of the Spirit of God.

Second Reading: James 5:1-6

The prophets often resorted to threats against the rich. However, there is no so violent conviction as found in the today’s reading in any book of the Bible. In order not to diminish the provocative charge, it should be noted that James does not distinguish, as is often done, between the good rich and the evil rich; he refers to the rich and that’s it.

The invectives of the first part of the passage (vv. 1-3) are terrible, “So now what concerns the rich! Cry and weep for the misfortunes that are coming upon you.” All that, with all the effort and sacrifices you have accumulated, will be destroyed, the products of your fields will rot or burn along with the stores in which they are stacked; your beautiful clothes will be eaten by moths and the precious jewelry will be covered with rust.

The poor man is unable to resist because the rich have also the law, strength, support of those in power, on his side. In the face of injustice so cleverly structured, what can the destitute do?

Nothing. He cannot offer any resistance. What’s left to him is only to rely on the Lord, and call upon his intervention.

Faced with the condition of impotence in which the poor is reduced to, James gives free rein to the toughest threats that have ever been uttered against the rich: “You lived in luxury and pleasure in this world thus fattening yourselves for the day of slaughter!”

The severity of the complaint is justified by the fact that the accumulation of wealth is incompatible with the evangelical choice. The goods of this world are for all and should be shared with those in need, and Jesus said, very clearly, “None of you may become my disciple, if he doesn’t give up everything he has!” (Lk 14:33).

Gospel: Mark 9:38-48

The episode in today’s passage answers these questions.

In the first part (vv. 38-40) the fact is exposed.

The healers of ancient times were used, during the practice of exorcism, to pronouncing the names of angels, demons and some characters renowned for their therapeutic powers. They claimed that this would help to make their intervention more efficient and to obtain miraculous results. The name most invoked was that of Solomon, considered the precursor and the protector of all devotees of the mysteries of knowledge; but also the name of Jesus, who has become famous throughout Galilee. They began using his name in spells, along with that of other exorcists.

One day John runs to the teacher and tells him: We have found that there is around “our dangerous rival;” he cures people resorting to your name and we have warned him, because he is not one of us, “He does not follow us,” and has not our authorization.

Note the reason given: he does not follow us. He does not say that “He does not follow Jesus,” but that “he does not follow them, the disciples,” revealing thus that they had a rooted conviction of being the only and indisputable custodians of the good. Jesus belonged only to them; they were the point of reference required for anyone who wants to invoke his name. They felt annoyed that someone was to carry out miracles without belonging to their group.

None of us would feel bad if, during the vintage or the harvest, a stranger offered to help out in the vineyard or in the field. It would be ridiculous and petty to regret because the aide works harder and better than us.

There is instead one who is saddened when he learns that a non-believer performs even heroic acts of love of which they are capable, yes, even Christians, but not only them. The reaction is usually the same as the apostles’. He pretends not to see, tries to ignore, minimizes; does not rejoice in the good done by others because it costs to admit that there are followers of other religions better than us. We don’t accept voluntary lessons of honesty, loyalty, non-violence, hospitality, tolerance from anyone.

The discriminating principle suggested by Jesus is clear: “Anyone who acts on behalf of man is one of us.” The Spirit is not a monopoly of the ecclesiastical structure; it is as free as the wind, “blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from and where it is going” (Jn 3:8). The Spirit acts in the Church and outside it.

In our community there are many people who provide service to our brothers and sisters. In general, they carry out their duties with diligence and generosity. However, jealousy and envy often appear here and there. They are the sure sign that the assumed duty had ceased to be a service and has become a gimmick to succeed, to carve out a space of power from which anyone proposing changes or offers to cooperate was kept far away, as if he were an intruder. So the ministry of the Church is no longer considered the harvest in which we expect the Lord to send the largest possible number of workers (Mt 9:37-38), but it is a pie to be divided among the contenders.

The second part of the passage (vv. 41-48) contains a number of sayings of the Lord.

The first relates to the offer of “a glass of water.” This is the most simple and spontaneous gesture, but should not be overlooked because it can mark the beginning of friendship. Already a wise man of the Old Testament had perceived its value: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink” (Prov 25:21). He had guessed that this small token of welcome could constitute the basis for a reconciliation.

Even Jesus recalls this gesture and —it is known— does not attribute it to one of his disciples, but to a stranger. It is a stranger that meets, perhaps for the first time, the messengers of the Gospel and gives them “a glass of water.” This act of love, though seemingly trivial, will not remain fruitless. It will establish a relationship of trust and will mark the beginning of a dialogue. Every act that promotes the encounter and communication between people is valuable and should be encouraged.

The threats against those who “scandalize the little ones” follow this first saying (v. 42).

For scandal is any obstruction to the path of the disciple. The little ones that should not be scandalized are not the children, but persons who are weak in the faith, those who hardly and with difficulty, take their first steps in following the Master. Who causes their estrangement assumes an enormous responsibility.

How do believers cause others to stumble? There are many way! Let me share a few with you today.

By directly tempting others to sin – This kind of behavior is seen throughout the Bible – Eve, Aaron, Jeroboam, and the Pharisees. Ill. Matt. 5:32; The church at Pergamum, Rev. 2:14; the church at Thyatira, Rev. 2:20. (Ill. One spouse leading the other to cheat on taxes; a Christian man seducing a Christian woman or vice-versa)

People can be led into sin indirectly – When we treat others insensitively; unloving and unkind ways we can cause them to sin through rebellion. We can spark an angry reaction in people, or we can cause them to throw up their hands in frustration.

People can be led into sin by a wicked example – If a believer who is weak in the faith sees a respected believer commit a sin, that younger believer could fall into sin by following that evil example. (Ill. 1 Thes. 5:22; 1 Tim. 4:12)

It is possible, too, that our liberty can cause others to sin. A mature believer knows the truth of 1 Cor. 6:12. That verse says, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient…” As a redeemed believer I have great liberty in Jesus. I am not under the Law, but I am under grace. However, if a weak believer sees me doing things that he believes are wrong and I encourage him to sin against his conscience, I am guilty of leading him astray.

People can be led into sin because other believers fail to lead them into righteousness – In other words, we fail to share the riches of Christ with new believers, we fail to disciple them, and as a result, they remain weak and never grow up in the Lord. We fail to give them the spiritual food they need and they starve in the midst of plenty!

People can be led away through false doctrine – Teachers of false religion lead people astray. When they do, they are committing a two-fold sin. First, they sin because they follow false religion. Second, they sin because they lead those that follow them away into Hell.

To inculcate this message, Jesus uses an image, death by drowning. The Jews consider this the most shameful punishment, because it made impossible a convenient burial of the dead body.

Jesus refers to the “hand” the “foot” and the “eye”. These are our three problem areas when it comes to dealing with sin. The “hand” refers to “the things we do.” The “foot” refers to “the places we go.” The “eye” refers to “the things we see or desire to have.” These three words describe all the areas where we humans are tempted to sin, 1 John 2:16; Gen. 3:6.

One wonders what scandal causes the small ones to lose an initial faith or what little that is left to them.

The context in which Mark has intentionally included the saying of the Lord, makes it possible to identify the reason for this scandal: ambition (Mk 9:33-40).

The conflicts, divisions, schisms in the church are always derived from pride, lust for power and the desire to dominate others. The scandal that even today, take away the “small” from the church remains the same: the unedifying spectacle of competition and intrigues to fill the top positions and gain privileges.

The last part of the passage is dedicated to the warning against another form of scandal: the one that comes “from within,” the scandal caused by hand, by foot, by the eyes (vv. 43-48). These organs, in Jesus’ time, indicate the impulses to evil, concupiscence, the inclinations that estrange one from God and lead to immoral choices.

Jesus demands from the disciples the courage to make the necessary cuts, though painful, if they are aware that certain actions, projects and feelings are incompatible with the evangelical choice.

The most immediate reference is the control, but not only, of sexuality. There are other cuts that have to be made if one does not want to ruin his life and that of others.

“Gehenna” is the valley that runs south of Jerusalem. It was considered unclean because in it some kings of Israel had slain their children to Baal (Jer 19:5-6). There graves had been dug to bury the bodies and a perpetual fire burned to consume the waste of the city. A foul-smelling smoke made it disgusting. It was cursed and rabbis had taken it as a symbol of destruction faced by those who commit sin.

To these images, well-known in the time of Jesus, was often used to admonish, to shake the conscience of those who neglect their duties towards God and neighbor. Whoever uses them to draw conclusions about the punishments of hell misconstrues the meaning. On the lips of Jesus they are a pressing and urgent call, addressed to all people, not ruin their lives and those of others. Who wastes one’s life in this world has lost, forever, the unique opportunity that God has given; “eternally” ruin himself, because no one will be able to give back the time he wasted. But this opportune insistence on the seriousness of this life is not to be misunderstood; it is not an announcement of eternal damnation of the reprobates.

Encouragement goes straight to the heart. In fact, the word itself comes from a combination of the prefix en which means “to put into” and the Latin root cor which means “heart”. Knowing what a big difference encouragement makes in your own life, what can you do to help others to take heart when the going gets tough and the way feels long?

SEVEN WAYS TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS IN OUR MODERN WORLD:

1. Learn an individual’s “love language,” the special ways in which they feel most valued. In his book, THE FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES, Gary Chapman explains that not everyone’s emotional needs are met in the same way, and that it’s important to learn to speak others’ love languages. The five love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

2. If an encouraging thought comes to mind, share it! It may not have the same effect if you wait. Don’t let shyness hold you back. Instead, form a new habit: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today…” Hebrews 3:13

3. When you introduce someone, add a few words of praise for the person’s abilities, accomplishments, about how they’ve helped you or about the nature of your relationship. It’s encouraging to be praised in front of others.

4. Send flowers. A surprise delivery makes any occasion or accomplishment feel more momentous, and is a tangible sign that you are thinking of someone even when they’re not around.

5. When someone is discouraged or hurting, offer specific, practical help. If you ask, “How can I help?” The person might be at a loss to answer. It’s better to ask, “Would it help if I…” or say, “I would like to…”

6. Remind fellow Christians of the specific promises of God and characteristics of God. We may know something with our mind, but need to be reminded in our heart. The Apostle Peter wrote, “I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” 2 Peter 1:12

7. Write someone a note to tell them that you’re praying for them. Tell them what you’re praying. You can pray specific Scriptures for individuals such as Romans 15:13, “[I pray that] the God of hope [will] fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me.” – Erma Bombeck

 
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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