27 September 2015: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary time

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Num 11:25-29 Ps 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14 Jas 5:1-6 Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Discipleship: inclusive, generous, responsible, accountable

In Ordinary time, the Lectionary presents RCIA participants and all the believing community with stories and teachings from Jesus’ everyday ministry. This week we continue reading about discipleship.

Today’s first reading is from Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah. Joshua wants to limit the experience of God to the Tent of Meeting, the official “holy place.” Moses laments that God’s presence is not experienced by all the people all the time. In today’s gospel, the disciples’ view of the unknown exorcist is similar to Joshua’s response.

In the second reading, the author of James outlines the problem of earthly riches: they rot and rust and are of no use in the kingdom (“the last days”). If someone collects riches at the expense of others (“withholding wages from the harvester”), those earthly riches are a witness against that one. The cries of unfairly-gotten wealth and defrauded workers “reach the ears of ‘the Lord of Hosts.'” The final sentence–“You have condemned and murdered the righteous one; he offers no resistance”–echoes Isaiah’s Suffering Servant, part of last week’s readings.

Mark’s gospel continues Jesus’ teachings about discipleship. The gospel contains two stories Mark has joined to create a teaching about God’s generosity and punishment:

  • In the unknown exorcist story, John complains to Jesus that someone who is not a disciple (“not walking with us”) is driving out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Moses in the first reading, Jesus defers censuring the man, explaining: “who is not against us is for us.” Jesus emphasizes that God’s inclusiveness is generous, rewarding all acts of service done by anyone, inside or outside the believing community.
  • In the warning against scandal story, Jesus emphasizes that God will punish acts of evil, especially when these acts lead the believing community (“little ones”) astray. The Greek word σκανδαλίζω (skan-dah-LIH-zdo), here translated as “cause to sin,” literally means “trip up” or “cause to stumble;” it’s the root of the English word scandalize. The punishment for tripping up others is Gehenna. In Jesus’ time this ravine outside Jerusalem was a garbage dump for unclean things, such as animal carcasses. Fires burned constantly and maggots (“worms”) filled decaying flesh. Jesus identifies hands, feet, and eyes to illustrate how serious he is. “Hands” and “feet” represent action; “eyes” (usually paired with “heart”) represent reflection or thought. Taken together, Jesus says that a disciple’s intentions (eyes) and actions (hands, feet) must align with God’s teachings.

This week’s readings again confront RCIA participants and the believing community with the meaning of discipleship. Joshua and John both want to keep God’s experience and power for the insiders. Moses and Jesus teach them that discipleship must be inclusive. Jesus warns that discipleship has responsibilities and consequences. Do we recognize God outside our church building? Can we see God in the kindnesses of others who are outside our faith? Are our words and actions worthy of a disciple, or are they obstacles that cause others to falter in their faith?

—Terence Sherlock

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