September 25, 2009

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Numbers is the source of the first reading for this weekend.

Numbers is the fourth book in the sequence of the Bible as the Bible now appears in print. It is therefore the fourth book in the series of five books called the “Pentateuch,” borrowing its name from the Greek word for “five.” These five books also are called the “Torah” in Hebrew.

The Pentateuch, including Numbers, concentrates upon the Hebrew people’s long and difficult trek across the arid Sinai Peninsula in search of the Promised Land. Moses led the people in this demanding journey.

In the incident told in this Scripture reading, God inspired Moses as well as the 70 elders, who were wise and experienced men among the people. Then two other men came onto the scene. They had not been among the 70 elders. Yet, God’s spirit also inspired them and they began to prophesy.

How could anyone other than Moses and the 70 elders presume to speak with God’s authority? Yet, Moses refused to silence these two men.

This weekend’s second reading is from the Epistle of James.

James is a relatively common name in the New Testament. Several important men involved in the foundation of Christianity had this name. One was the presumed foster brother of Jesus, a son from an earlier marriage of Joseph, or another close relative. Jesus had no blood siblings.

As is usual in the New Testament, the identity of the author is not given in any detail. The writings are not about the authors. They are about Jesus.

This reading frankly reminds us of the impermanence and, in the end, the uselessness of material things.

It further reminds us that the lure of material things can become nothing less deadly than a rapidly progressing cancer if we succumb to it.

St. Mark’s Gospel furnishes the last reading.

John, an Apostle, approaches Jesus with the news that strangers are expelling demons and invoking the name of Jesus as their authority. Are they authentic? Must they not be halted?

Jesus then says that anyone who truly believes in what the Lord is preaching, and therefore believes in him, must be accepted by the people.

The Lord tells his disciples that they must give water to the thirsty because they belong to Christ. The key is belonging to Christ. Otherwise, it is a matter of leading the innocent astray, and dreadful punishments await those who lead the innocent astray.


Always in reading the Gospels, it is important to realize that these four great fundamental documents of Christianity came not from the actual time of Jesus, but from the Christian community, possibly as it existed several decades after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

When the Gospels were written years after the resurrection of Jesus, this Christian community had formed and was now called the Church. It was not as organized in the early days as it was in later years. Obviously, it hardly was as large a community as it was to become, but it definitely had formed as the Church.

In other words, there was an accumulation of people of like mind and faith. However, as is inevitable in human gatherings, some people tried to assert themselves over others.

The Gospel this weekend calls us away from self-interest and struggle. God empowers people to believe, to understand and to love by submitting to the divine will.

Without God, we are greatly impoverished. Divine grace is our wealth. Grace comes only after our total commitment to God. If we offer ourselves completely in faith, God’s grace lavishly comes to us.

The messages about newcomers are not that God’s call, to Moses or the Apostles, only was incidental, and that others speak in God’s name upon their own whim, but nevertheless with authority and knowledge. Rather, it is a call to us to be humble and to place our trust not in ourselves, but instead to put all our trust in God. †

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