Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, SEPTEMBER 28 Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 OUR GOOD NEWS: Jesus calls us to open-minded, total commitment. In Old Testament times God revealed himself in cloud, smoke or fire wherein the Divine Presence was focused in time and space while remaining invisible to human eyes. The Lord thus "came down" to inaugurate a new situation of great import for His Chosen People (first reading). Israel’s petulant complaining had driven their leader, Moses, to frustration, despair and near-collapse. But instead of accepting his resignation, God caused Moses’ charism of authority to be shared with 70 designated leaders. That this transfer was successful became immediately evident to bystanders. These "prophesied," that is, manifested ecstatic behavior characteristic of earlier prophets. Subsequent words of judgment and command spoken by those so marked out could be confidently accepted as of divine rather than human origin. Eldad and Medad were community members in good standing ("among those registered"). They too received the spirit to prophesy although not, as the rest, through institutionally recognized channels — gathered at the tent of meeting, in the presence of cloud with Moses in their midst. Moses’ aide, Joshua, responded to this unexpected development by becoming very excited (the root meaning of the word translated as "jealous" or "zealous"). Joshua feared the collapse of properly constituted authority with resulting anarchy. More immediately and personally, his master’s preeminence seemed threatened, even undermined. Moses however responded with profound humility. "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" The Letter of James (second reading) is an obvious exception to the generally underplayed theme of social justice in the New Testament. "You rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted, your fine wardrobe has grown moth-eaten..." Such lurid language and powerful imagery shouldn’t be taken over-literally. They are in fact stereotypical cliches with close parallels in Jewish as well as pagan literary tradition. James warns us against selfishness and greed that infect every stratum of society. Those who concentrate on material things, who abuse possessions through irresponsible, wasteful conspicuous consumption ("wanton luxury"), are doomed to frustration and unhappiness. More ominously, "the Lord of hosts" — who revealed His holy will through Mosaic social legislation and prophetic exhortations — will certainly hear and personally avenge every cry of workers unjustly defrauded of wages. Finally, the wealthy and powerful are condemned for destroying, through unjust laws and a biased judicial system, the decent and hard-working "just person" — who nevertheless refuses to return evil for evil ("does not resist"). Baptism commits every Christian to practical involvement, working for social justice through peaceable rather than violent means. Pope Paul VI’s encyclical echoed the tradition of James: "Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditioned right ...; the superfluous wealth of rich countries should be placed at the service of poor nations."

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