Deacon Cornellís Homily


Numbers 11:25-29
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48


September 26-27, 2009 Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

The Grace Baptist church hired a bus to take a bunch of people from the congregation to a Habitat for Humanity building site that they were helping to build. On the way, the bus was sideswiped by a gasoline tanker truck, and it rolled down an embankment killing all the people in the bus. They all immediately went to heaven. After a short briefing by St. Peter, he told them to go down a hallway and into the fourth room on the right. As they started to file in, St. Peter said, "Oh one more thing. As you go by the second door on the left can you be very quiet. That is where the Catholics are and they think they are the only ones up here. "

The sad thing about this story is that you could substitute any of the various denominations of Christianity in any order and the story would still work. If there is any one characteristic of Christianity, it is unity. Jesus prayed that we all be one with him as he is with the father. Paul states several times that God's plan is to bring all things in to one under Christ. The most frequent liturgical experience for Christians is Communion. How did a religion that has such a foundation of unity get to be the poster child for disunity? Our readings today say something about that.

All three of our readings today warn of us the dangers of not understanding what it means to be favored by God, to be blessed. Notice that I said that these readings warn us of the dangers of misunderstanding what it means to be favored by God. I did not say they warned us of the dangers of thinking we were favored. It is a natural human trait to want to feel special, to be singled out for blessings or favors. And our scriptures are full of the revelation that we have a God who loves to lavish his blessings on people. Our salvation history weaves through countless stories of people who are favored by God.

I would suggest that misunderstanding what it means to be favored by God starts with a poor understanding of who God is. Voltaire said, "God created man in His own image; and man has been returning the favor ever since." The God we understand for the most part today is nothing like the God of Scripture. Over the last three or four hundred years we have whittled the completely other, ineffable God down to just another Being among many, writ large but basically just a super being. God is not just another Being no matter how big or perfect. God is being itself, and so all of creation is filled with God, and there is not one corner, not one subatomic particle, not one galaxy, not one people, not one person that is more loved by God than any other.

But from the beginning of history, starting with the story of Cain and Able, human beings have misunderstood being favored by God to mean that we are favored over and above those around us. We start to feel that being special or favored means that God loves us more than he loves others, and that we are somehow better than those around us. We see how this can lead to jealousy in the story from the Book of Numbers, some 3200 years ago. When God told Moses to gather 70 of the elders so that he might give them a share of the spirit he had blessed Moses with, two of those on Moses list did not show up. One had a tee time and the other a dentist appointment. Yet later, Joshua sees them in the camp, filled with the spirit and prophesying. He is jealous because they did not go through the official ceremony, and yet they were blessed so he runs off to tattle on them to Moses. Moses has a right understanding of God and Moses understands that when God favors some one or some people it is so that they can serve others. He longs for a time when all the people are so favored by God that his burden will be lighter.

1200 years later, the disciples have the same reaction. We just heard last week how the disciples were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest, and now there are people who are not even part of the group who are working miracles in Jesus’ name. They are jealous because they thought being selected as disciples made them better than those who were not disciples. So they run off to tattle on them to Jesus. If we think about what they are doing, it is ludicrous. They are complaining that this almight God is being tricked by these other people into letting them use his power against his wishes. Huh? Jesus knows that the Father bestows his abundant blessings on people so that they might use that abundance to serve those around them.

And James, in his letter, warns that thinking the material wealth is something that sets above others, to the point where we seek more wealth at the expense of others leads us down a path of ruin. So what do these readings tell us about understanding how and why God chooses to bestow his favor on some? Are we to understand James’ letter to mean that having material wealth is bad? Are we to hear the stories from Numbers and Mark of the action of the Spirit outside the official channels to mean that it doesn’t matter what religion we belong to, that all are the same and arbitrary?

I would suggest that we would have to ignore a whole lot of scripture to come to those conclusions. What Moses is trying to teach Joshua and what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples is first of all that God’s desire to favor creation can never be boxed in by human ideas of what is right and wrong. In the second place, they are trying to teach us that God’s favor is never just for the one person or people. God always chooses as special those who he has called to bring the reality of God’s love to those around them. His blessings are to equip those he has called to be able to carry out his plan of bringing salvation to all creation. As always, we have Jesus as our best model of what it means to be favored by God, to be selected by God. Jesus is the beloved Son, most blessed of all human beings, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. And yet he understands that this favor, this love has been bestowed on him for the salvation of the world. So Jesus empties himself of all the glory, all the favor, all the blessings, to die on the cross so that all creation might live.

We are called to do the same. We Catholics are singled out, called by God by name in baptism, not just for our own sake. This means we have to do the necessary work to cast off the false image of God we have absorbed from our culture and go back to Scripture to seek the true God. As Catholics, we are blessed with the intimacy of God in the flesh in the Eucharist, comforted in our repentance in the tangible forgiveness of Reconciliation, strengthened in sickness by the oil and touch of the Sacrament of Healing. While all of these are blessings for us, they are not just for us. They are given to us to equip us to carry out the mission for which we are anointed: to be the body of Christ, the incarnation of God’s love in the world so that the Kingdom of God might come here as it is in heaven; that the Kingdom of God might come now.

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