26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Numbers 11:25-29; James 5:1-6; Mark 9: 38-43, 45, 47-48
One of the lessons I took from today’s readings is that God refuses to be restricted by our presuppositions or plans. God’s grace and God’s gifts don’t always come to us in ways that we expect. Often we miss these moments of encounter because they do not fit our expectations. As a result we miss the grace offered us because it didn’t follow our established norms. We run the risk of missing our time of visitation. While God is a god of order, He is also a God of surprises. Who would have thought that the Holy One of Israel who forbade the making of images would become a human being, born of a virgin? Who would have thought that the God who has no beginning or end would die on a cross? Who would have thought that the God who fed His people during their trek through the wilderness would become their Food for the Journey? Who would have thought that the God who led His people out of slavery would make them heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom? Who would have thought that to believe is to be open to God’s surprises? The liturgy provides us with signposts along the path that leads us to the definitive encounter with the Risen Lord.
Today’s reading from the Book of Numbers gives us a brief encounter with the God of surprises. God knows what He is doing, even though we may have a better plan. We heard how Eldad and Medad failed to show up for the gather of the elders because they felt themselves to be weak and unworthy. But the Good Shepherd sought out the lost sheep and poured out His Spirit upon them. Immediately they began to exercise the gifts of praying, preaching and praising God as the Spirit moved them. Because God is a God of surprises, He is not bound by our liturgical forms. Like the wind, He blows where He wills. He surprises the humble by exalting them. Believing in a God of surprises, are we willing to receive the Lord in all His distressing disguises. We may be surprised if we open the ears of our hearts to hear the voice of mercy calling us to repentance and faith. If we are willing to humble ourselves before the Lord, we will find ourselves being raised up from glory to glory.
A good starting place for each of us the Sacred Word. By means of the Scriptures God engages us in a heart-to-heart conversation. The Word of the Lord, when received in faith, is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey to the soul. If we wish to satisfy the longings of our souls, we must drink deeply from the springs of salvation. The things of this world can help sustain human life but cannot satisfy our deeper hunger. We are called by God to feast at the Banquet of the Lamb and to eat of the Bread that comes down from heaven. God surprises us again. He emptied Himself of all majesty and made us rich through his poverty. By himself becoming a curse, Christ has given us a blessing. By dying on the Cross, Christ has given each of us eternal life.
Today’s gospel passage is a powerful reminder that God is a God of surprises. He is free to do mighty deeds through the instrumentality of whomever He chooses. Confronted by these surprises, we are challenged to identify the motives of our hearts. Only then can we overcome the prejudice that keeps us from the bond of love and unity that the Father offers us in Christ. Many of us are like the disciples in today’s reading. We are ready to silence others who have success in bringing sinners to the Lord because they do not belong to our communion of faith. Christ’s admonition is most needed today. Anyone who works miracles in His name cannot at the same time be against His mission. If sinners are brought to repent of the sins and to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, we can assume that the Spirit of God is working through the messenger. The surprise: God is working to bring about the new creation, using some very strange people in the process. We need to resist the temptation to limit the grace of Christ. Christ would not have us hinder the movements of the Spirit. Rather, He would have us rejoice that the Seed of the Word is being planted.
Jesus is the Lord of Lords and King of the universe. He is not the special possession of any particular Church or faith communion. He refuses to be put into a tidy little religious box. The love of God and the mercy of His heart are neither limited nor constricted. There is plenty mercy and abundant compassion for everyone. The surprise of all surprises: the unseen God took to Himself a visible face. The all-holy God chose to be a companion of sinners. The just God chose to manifest His power by performing works of mercy. The Creator of the universe chose to recreate a flawed world. He Who once walked in the Garden chose to walk the paths of Galilee making the lame, the deaf and the blind whole. As heirs of the Kingdom, we act and pray in the name of Jesus, trusting that He will intercede for us before the Father of all Who desires to forgive, to heal and strengthen us and to bring us peace.
May the Lord grant us the grace to align our wills with His. May He fill our hearts that we can learn to live simply thereby allowing others to simply live. May we strive to conform our lives to Christ, so that we may become the instruments whereby the whole family of humankind will be made whole. Let us come to know and to seek the path to Christ that passes through every human heart – even the most sinful, those who are most insecure and hardened. And when the Lord returns in glory, may He bring us all together into everlasting life. Amen.