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A Scripture reflection for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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by Stephen Bevans, SVD | September 29, 2018

A Scripture reflection for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 30, 2018

 

Readings:

 

First Reading: Numbers 11:25-29

Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14

Second Reading: James 5:1-6

Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

 

 

A God of Surprises, A God of Inclusion

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” This is the fervent prayer of Moses in our first reading from the book of Numbers. This was his exclamation after he was informed that even though Eldad and Medad didn’t show up to receive the Lord’s spirit in the camp’s tabernacle, they still had been gifted with prophecy. Rather than be jealous of those who didn’t quite conform to the rules, Moses acknowledge God’s unpredictability in terms of the bestowal of God’s spirit—God is a God of surprises, Pope Francis likes to say.

I couldn’t help thinking how Moses’ prayer is answered so fully in the New Covenant. Indeed, as Vatican II has insisted, all God’s people are prophets, because of their baptism.[1] Every Christian participates in the priestly, prophetic, and king/servant ministry of Jesus, and every Christian is endowed with various gifts from the Spirit. As the document on the church puts it, “The chosen people of God is, therefore, one: ‘one Lord, one faith, one Baptism’ (Eph 4:5); there is a common dignity of members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons and daughters, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity” (paragraph 32). There are no people who are not “called.”

We neglect this truth at our peril. When we operate in the church on their premise that there are some people who have privilege and power (e.g. the clergy), and others who are only able to follow (e.g. women, laity), we end up in the sin of clericalism. Pope Francis has condemned this kind of thinking in his Letter to the People of God in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania revelations several weeks ago about the extent of clerical abuse in that state. When we fail to recognize that, indeed, all God’s people are prophets (and priests and servants of the gospel) we are in danger of harming the “little ones” mentioned in today’s gospel. When we fail to recognize our fundamental equality as Christians, we can fall into the trap of thinking that some of us are “wealthy” (in education, power, privilege) and others are not. But James in our second reading tells us how dangerous this is. Yes, James is talking about material wealth, but the same is true about thinking that some of us are wealthy spiritually (and so trustworthy, to be believed) and others are less so, whose sufferings are to be looked upon with skepticism. We see this playing itself out in the news in these days.

So we need to be inclusive in our Christian life and Christian community. All the people of the Lord are prophets, all have a right to speak out and all have a right to be heard. Jesus in the gospel, though, takes us one step further. When the disciples find out that someone who “does not follow us” was driving out demons in the name of Jesus, they became incensed. But Jesus disagrees—“whoever is not against us is for us.” Once again, I can’t help thinking about the generosity that Vatican II shows toward other Christians not in communion with Rome, with people of other faiths, and even with non-believers.[2]What ultimately matters is not a verbal allegiance, or even a physical allegiance. What matters is giving people who need it a cup of water to drink, whether explicitly in Jesus name (as do our Protestant brothers and sisters) or implicitly (as our Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. brothers and sisters).

Our God—the God of Moses, the God of James, the God of Jesus—is a God of surprises. Our God is a God of radical inclusion—including all Christians in the gift of prophecy, including the dignity of all people—rich and poor alike, including all women and men of good will. Would that all peoples would see how widely and generously God’s Spirit has been poured out upon them all!

 


[1] See Vatican II’s document on the church, paragraph 12.

[2] See Vatican II’s document on ecumenism and on non-Christian religions.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

sbevans@ctu.edu


Books written by Steve Bevans

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