September 30, 2018 – Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:
Today’s readings make a strong argument for Christian unity.
Allow me to share a couple of stories, then we’ll connect the dots.
Last spring, I reached out to the Class of 2019 to encourage them to sign up to be mentors for our incoming freshmen class. Each freshman is assigned to a senior mentor. Those seniors help the new freshmen navigate the transition to high school and provide them with an experienced person to meet with regularly.
As the deadline approached, the number of students that had signed up to be a mentor was low and I became concerned that we would not have enough.
I wondered if I should open up the opportunity to be a mentor to the junior class to help fill the gap. I contacted the seniors and offered two options for their consideration. Option one – expand our mentor pool by including juniors. Option two – each of the seniors that had signed up would take on 2-3 additional freshmen.
Their response was swift and overwhelming – NO JUNIORS. They told me in no uncertain terms, “Mentoring is for seniors.” They would rather take on more work for themselves than include juniors in the mentor program.
As it turned out, a few more seniors signed up, so it became a non-issue. However, I found their solidarity in excluding juniors from the program very interesting.
I attended the Right to Life Dinner earlier this week. It was a good-sized crowd of approximately 900 people. I was in the midst of uncomfortable small talk with someone I’d just met when she gestured to the crowd and said, “It’s nice to see 900 Catholics come together for such a great cause.”
When it comes to small talk, I am usually looking for the quickest way out, so normally I would just agree and move on. But there was something in the way she said it that compelled me to respond, “It’s a great cause for people of any faith,” I replied.
She looked at me with a blank stare. “Well,” I said. “Not everyone here is Catholic.”
Now she was the one looking for a quick way out. She nodded at me and walked away. I got the distinct impression that I had somehow offended her.
Was she offended because I hadn’t simply agreed with her? Or was she offended because she thought pro-life somehow belonged to Catholics? Did she think pro-life was “ours”?
Oftentimes our Sunday readings will follow a pattern: The Old Testament selection and the Gospel will mirror one another, while the second reading offers an exclamation point on the message. We have such a set of readings today.
The first reading from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel of Mark tell virtually the same story: There were people out there preaching or healing without permission – people acting for the greater good, but without the expressed authority to do so. In both stories, those that did have permission or authority were bothered. They went to Moses, or Jesus depending on the story, and reported these rebels. They not only turned them in, but also told Moses and Jesus exactly how to handle the situation.
Allow me to take a few liberties here as I paraphrase the stories.
A summary of our first reading: “Moses, there are two men out there spreading God’s word. They weren’t with us when we all received the spirit, so they should not be allowed to spread God’s word; only we get to do that. Moses, you must stop them!”
To which Moses replied, “Stop them? I wish everyone would spread God’s word!”
And summarizing the Gospel: “Jesus, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. He is not one of us – only we are allowed to drive out demons in your name. You need to stop him!”
To which Jesus replied, “Stop him? I wish everyone would drive out demons in my name!”
To help with our understanding, there are two questions to consider.
Question 1: “Why did those that complained get so upset by what they saw?”
It’s a simple matter of fairness. Those two men were not present when the spirit came upon the group, so it’s not fair that they were allowed to spread God’s word just like the others.
That man driving out demons in the name of Jesus is not even a disciple. It is not fair that he got to drive out demons just like the disciples.
Question #2: “Why were Moses and Jesus not bothered by the behaviors that were reported to them?”
Simply put, Moses and Jesus were results oriented. Should they be concerned with who is spreading God’s word and driving out demons, and whether or not they had the authority to do so? Should they limit the number of people doing God’s work? Or should they be grateful to anyone that is willing to help?
It boils down to perspective. The perspective of those that complained was egocentric. They sought to limit the work of God to a select few, a group to which they belonged. God’s work was their domain, just as mentoring is only for seniors and pro-life support is only for Catholics.
The complainers wanted to hoard God’s work, and the grace that comes with it, for themselves. James described this phenomenon in today’s second reading: “You have stored up treasure for the last days…you have fattened your hearts…” That is the exclamation point I mentioned earlier: Don’t hoard the work of God!
By comparison, the perspective of Moses and Jesus focused on the greater good. When it comes to doing God’s work here on earth, there is no such thing as too many laborers. If you are filled with the spirit as you spread God’s word, you are welcome on our team. If you drive out demons in the name of the Lord, you are welcome on our team.
The Catholic Church differs from other Christian denominations in some of its fundamental beliefs. However, we have many more commonalities with other Christians than we have differences.
When it comes to addressing the general welfare of the people of God – such as spreading the gospel message, caring for the poor, and loving our neighbor – the more the merrier.
We should rejoice in our Catholic faith and embrace its rich teachings and traditions. We should also rejoice in the fact that we are not expected to do God’s work alone – all Christians are called to share in the load. More work gets done when no one cares who gets the credit.
We do His work not to earn points or gain special graces, but for the greater good of the Body of Christ.
Don’t hoard the work of God!