1st Reading: Numbers 11:25-29; 2nd Reading: James 5:1-6; Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
THEME: CHRIST ENJOINS US TO BE TOLERANT AND MODEST!
God created everyone uniquely. He freely endows each person with different capabilities (graces) at His own discretion for the common good, and can actually use anyone as He pleases, to execute His salvific mission. Unfortunately, due to sectarianism, exclusivism, tribalism, fear, envy, injustice and the like, which have been the major cankerworms that stifle the progress of any given society, many talented or qualified persons have been deprived the opportunity of contributing positively towards the growth and development of that society.
In the FIRST READING, when the task of ruling the Israelites became too burdensome for Moses, he saw the need for assistance, and thus entreated the Almighty God so as to carry out the duties entrusted to him effectively. Compassionately, God responded to Moses’ plea, by replicating his power and grace (transference of spiritual gifts), and thus instituted a collective leadership of 70 elders to share his burden. Remarkably, two persons (Eldad & Medad) who were not in the camp also received the same power and grace. Consequently, Joshua, engulfed by zeal, envy, sectarianism, or perhaps, fear of his own position, wanted to stop them. Thus, Moses repudiated him, and wished that all the Lord’s people had such prophetic gifts, and the Lord gave His Spirit to them.
Similarly, in the GOSPEL, due to envious, overzealous and exclusive mentality of Jesus’ disciples, or perhaps, fear of their own positions and the authority of their leader, they could not approve the stranger who was performing a salvific duty in the name and authority of Jesus Christ, without authorization. Hence, they wanted to stop him. But, Jesus reacted to their exclusivist views by underscoring the decisive importance of His person and mission (liberation of humanity from slavery of evil powers). He instructed them not to stop him, that, no man could do a mighty work in His name and be altogether His enemy. Thus, He laid down the great principle that, “he who is not against us is for us.” Even though, there are fake pastors who feign Jesus’ authority, but we can test their spirits (1 Jn. 4:1), and can also know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:20).
Meanwhile, in one of our desert experiences many years ago, in Port Harcourt, before I became a priest, during intercessory prayer sessions, many people were praying in the spirit (glossolalia), precisely the prayer warriors, I was also inspired by the Holy Spirit to pray as such, though not yet in Praying Ministry then. But one brother approached me and started rebuking every familiar spirit in me. According to him, the gift of glossolalia was only meant for those in Praying Ministry; just imagine his perception! Sometimes, some Christians are beclouded by such attitudes, like Joshua, Jesus’ disciples and that brother. When they see others outside their religious group performing the same good works like them, they become apprehensive, as if those people would outshine or overthrow them, or that some gifts are only meant for special people. This is ignorance of the highest order.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit acts in diverse ways, and is not limited to a group of persons, or given through official channels; rather God freely inspires anyone who believes in Him (Acts 10:34), and no one is a monopoly of spiritual gifts (like prophecy & exorcism). It is a wrong mentality to think that, graces or gifts are always given to people according to their status or religious group.
Surprisingly, there are many Christians who form different sects or cliques, and do not see the relevance of other people’s good works, outside their group. Even when those people may have the panaches (wonderful ideas or suggestions) on how to improve their current society, but due to exclusivism of the group, they are being silenced. Such group, no matter how talented you are, they may see you as a threat or obstacle, and will always look for a way to discredit or criticize your actions, either through assassinating your character or not speaking friendly with you. But if another person among them does the same thing you have done, they would applaud him or her. This attitude may be scandalous to many, especially those with little faith.
Furthermore, Christ also warned us in the Gospel, not to cause scandals to others, especially the little ones. For scandal is doubly sinful act that involves one’s sin and that of another person being scandalized. It could be caused by teaching wrong doctrine, giving wrong advice, exhibiting queer or bad attitudes, which may be imitated by others especially children. According to John Locke (British philosopher), in his behavioral perspective, children’s minds are Tabula Rasa (blank slate), and are largely shaped by their social environment, which exerts its effects through associations between thoughts and feelings, behavioral repetitions and imitations. In other words, children are influenced by what they see people do. So, we have grave obligation, especially those in positions of authority such as parents, teachers, formators, etc., whose duty it is to bring up children in a true Christian faith, not to scandalize them or lead others into error.
Consequently, this is the reason St. James, in the SECOND READING prophetically condemned those who put their hope in earthly or perishable things. Same goes to those who accumulate earthy wealth unjustly, most especially through bribery, oppression, suppression, deprivation and injustices of all kinds against the weak, the poor who labour for them, and those who do not belong to their group, clique or class. For these earthly acquisitions may deprive us of eternal life, if we do not use them wisely in helping the poor and needy.
Therefore, our lessons in today’s readings are:
- As Christians, it is very pertinent for us to eschew pride, and always seek for assistance (collaboration) in our work when the load becomes too much; instead of burning ourselves up because of vainglories, or be afraid that our efforts, successes or achievements may be attributed to others.
- We should avoid sectarianism, exclusivism, etc., and not stifle the Spirit of God, or be envious of the gifts of others; or see those performing the same work with us as threats, especially those who do not belong to our religious group or denomination; rather we should do everything possible to uplift their human dignity.
- We should always carry people along, and always communicate our knowledge and experiences without hoarding them. This would help them to reproduce more of our ingenuity or talents for the betterment of humanity.
- We should avoid causing scandals to others especially children, or lead those with little faith into error.
- We should not treat people unjustly or deny the poor and laborers their fair wages. Also, not to allow any earthly possessions deprive us the everlasting prize, but sacrifice them for the sake of eternal life.
Finally, the Holy Spirit works outside the Church community, as is evident in the works done by people who have the good of others at heart. Since no man can possibly grasp all truth, we should always be open to dialogue with others, and not be intolerant with them, which is a sign both of arrogance and ignorance. However, we should be tolerant with people no matter their tribe, class or religion. Though not a gullible acceptance of anything, but through the Holy Spirit, subject everything to the test.
Therefore, I pray that you and your family may be filled with the Power of the Holy Spirt, so as to fulfil God’s divine purpose for your life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen!!!
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.