Year B – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Stumbling blocks or stepping-stones.
Num: 11:16-17, 25-29; Jam 5: 1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48;

It sometimes happens that when misfortune befalls us or when disaster strikes, we sometimes wish other too have a taste of the same, but when good things come our way we want to be the exclusive recipients! We want to be included among the favored ones but we want to exclude others! If we are honest we have to admit that jealousy destroys so many good relationships and fruitful possibilities in life. As believers we are called to celebrate and rejoice at the goodness that is there around us rather than be jealous of others.

In today’s first reading we are told that God commanded that seventy elders come to the tent of meeting, that holy place in which Moses and the elders came into the presence of God. God wishes to relieve Moses of some of his responsibility and share his responsibility and his power with these seventy elders. Further we are told that not only did these seventy elders, who came into the tent but two others, Eldad and Medad, who were not elders and who did not come into the tent of meeting, these two started to prophecy in the camp. Immediately Joshua, Moses’ assistant runs to Moses and states his objection: “Moses they are not part of us, they have no right to prophecy, they don’t have the experience of the elders! You better stop them!” Moses shows largeness and his quality of leadership by indicating that the spirit of God was with the outsiders too. “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!”

The reading reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways, God has no favorites but everyone is a favorite of God. We humans create barriers, we judge people according to our own criterion and very often we have double standards. Especially when it comes to religion and religious matters we feel we are better people, more qualified because of what we have done, more experienced because of our years of service for God. We want to be acknowledged as authorities -we know God and God is close to us, or so we believe! We need to take our inspiration from Moses. Let there be more ministers, more healers, more preachers, more teachers! Let’s rejoice that God is calling more and sharing his gifts with more people!

A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back…every one of them. One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, this will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course. — Anon

St. James reminds us that we have a duty to share the blessings of God with others. In human choices, when I choose something or someone I exclude others, In God’s choices, when He chooses someone he chooses that person to be a blessing for others. If we hold on to our wealth we stand condemned. “Your riches will rot. Your gold and silver will rust, it will eat your flesh like fire.” If God has been generous with us we too need to be generous with others-. Freely you have received, freely give!

The acorn planter

In the 1930’s, a young traveler was exploring the French Alps. He came upon a vast stretch of barren land. It was desolate. It was forbidding. It was ugly. It was the kind of place you hurry away from. Then, suddenly, the young traveler stopped dead in his tracks. In the middle of this vast wasteland was a bent-over old man. On his back was a sack of acorns. In his hand was a four-foot length of iron pipe. The man was using the iron pipe to punch holes in the ground. Then from the sack he was carrying, he would grab an acorn and put it in the hole. Later the old man talked with the traveler and told him, “I’ve planted over 100,000 acorns. Perhaps only a tenth of them will grow.” The old man’s wife and son had died, and this was how he chose to spend his final years. “I want to do something useful,” he said. Twenty-five years later the now-not-as-young traveler returned to the same desolate area. What he saw amazed him. He could not believe his own eyes. The land was covered with a beautiful forest two miles wide and five miles long. Birds were singing, animals were playing, and wild flowers perfumed the air. The traveler stood there recalling the desolation that once was; a beautiful oak forest stood there now – all because someone cared. – Brian Cavanaugh

In today’s Gospel we see Jesus teaching his disciples the message of his kingdom. They are still thinking in terms of power, position and believe they are the Elite, because they are chosen by Jesus. They hear of someone who is not one of them casting out demons and healing in the name of Jesus and they told Jesus that they tried to stop him because he was not of their group. Jesus is swift to respond: “Do not stop him; for no one who does a good deed of power in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.”

We like to think we are broadminded, that we are tolerant, that we accept people who are different from us or don’t belong to our culture, clan, class, society but when put to the test we show our true colors. In our religious zeal we can be bigoted. Jesus has strong words about people who are stumbling blocks in the path of faith. Our zeal must always be tempered by love. Whenever we are tempted to put people in their place, to point out their mistakes, we need to ask ourselves what is our motive? Am I doing it out of love for the other? Is it done with love or am I showing off, playing the game of one-upmanship?

The passage goes on further and asks us to examine ourselves rather than judge others and root out whatever is there in us that is causing others to go astray. Sometimes it could be my actions, my bad example that can cause other to follow my lead, at other times it could be my silence, my inaction that can be the stumbling block that causes people to fall into sin. “If your hand causes you to sin cut it off, if your foot causes you to stumble cut it off, if your eye causes you to stumble pluck it off…. He has strong words of condemnation against those who scandalize little ones…. “It were better for them that a millstone be hung around your neck.” Jesus is not asking us to mutilate ourselves but to accept full responsibility for our behavior when it is leading others to evil. We might sometimes be doing the right thing but if it is going to be a source of scandal, to lead the young astray we have to think twice of the consequences.

Send him to hell!

O Henry, the master storyteller, once wrote a story about a woman whose mother had died when she was a little girl. When the father came home from work the little girl would ask him to play with her. Her father would tell her that he had no time and that she should go out into the street and play; then he would light up 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 up 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 that man who refused to play with her when she needed him, and send him to hell!” – Harold Buetow in ‘God Still Speaks: Listen!’

May we be stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks to life!

Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.

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