Friday, September 25, 2009

A Prophet's Motives--A Reflection on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading today Moses exclaims "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" The Lord had taken some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on 70 elders to help Moses lead God's people. Two of the candidates, Eldad and Medad, were still in the camp with the people, but God still gave them the same spirit of prophecy that he gave the others. There were some that thought this was improper and complained. Moses realized that these people spoke out of fear of this change in the way things had been done. So he makes it clear that he wished that all of God's people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow his spirit on them all.

Moses request was fulfilled on Pentecost. When the Spirit gave birth to the Church, the Father gave him to us all. Peter in his sermon that day said, "this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'It will come to pass in the last days,' God says, 'that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy." So, we are all prophets! God has given us his Spirit so that, among other things, we can prophesy. Great! What do we do now?

First, don't panic! If the Father has given us this gift, he will teach us how to use it. If you think about it, we've all felt the desire, the need, to prophesy. When you yell at a TV pundit's take on the news, that's the desire to prophesy. When you want to correct your children so they will grow up to be faithful men and women, that's the desire to prophesy. When you want to tell your football team's coach how to coach, that's the desire to prophesy.

Now, often this desire is James is scolding the rich who have failed in their obligations to the poor, to those who work for them. They have not paid their wages, while the continue to live in luxury. Sound familiar to anyone? James warns them that not only is this wrong, but that the "cries of the harvesters" have "reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts." God knows all about it and guess who's side he's on!
(By the way, you business owners and managers, you might want to check check your payroll when you get into the office on Monday.)

In the Gospel Jesus gives two prophetic statements on sin. First, he warns against assuming that the actions of others are wrong simply because they are not "one of us." Some were driving out demons in Jesus' name who did not follow along with the disciples, so the disciples tried to prevent them from doing these exorcisms. But Jesus reminds his followers that "whoever is not against us is for us." These outsiders were casting out demons in Jesus' name. They were on his side.

Christ's second warning is about personal sin. If you are aware of any sin or cause of sin in your life, get rid of it! Jesus used the analogy of cutting off a hand or foot or plucking out an eye if it causes you to sin. You would be crippled, but you would be alive. The alternative to not dealing with sin is Hell. Jesus uses the image of Gehenna for Hell. Gehenna was Jerusalem's city dump. All the garbage was brought there and thrown into the fire of the garbage already burning. (Gehenna had been known as the Valley of Hinnom. It was here that some of the people of Jerusalem would go to sacrifice their children to the pagan god Molech by burning them alive. Later, the fire was kept but the shrine to Molech became a burning garbage dump.)

This powerful image of cutting off your limbs or be thrown out with the trash to be burned is a prophetic hyperbole. Jesus is not advocating self-dismemberment. He is telling us that we need to deal with our sins in a way to "cut-off" our opportunity to continue in them. Do we take our sins seriously enough to eliminate them from our lives? It's not easy. It takes time. We have the great gift of the sacrament of Confession. Go tell your sins to a priest. The grace you will receive from Confession will strengthen to be able to avoid sin.

You have received God's Spirit in Baptism and especially in Confirmation. You are a prophet! Tell God's truth to the world, your part of it. Drive sin from you life. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to speak and the grace to live in holiness.