We prepare to gather together in the Eucharistic Community to experience again the unity and diversity of God’s family and to celebrate God’s coming in Word and Sacrament that we might go to live that Word and be sacraments. God’s saving love is shared with us and then through us. This takes prayerful reflection and reception of God’s Word and Presence.
A few months ago a friend called me and asked if I would talk to her son who was questioning his receiving the sacrament of Confirmation. He is a fine lad and sincere. He expressed his fear of, or distaste for, the idea that this sacrament was going to make him “better than other people.” Coming from his adolescent culture, his feelings and interpretations of this sacrament were well founded. His being “better than” would place him “outside the camp” - too different and isolated.
In our First Reading today, we read about God’s sharing the very Spirit of God with a group of elders who had made the “list”. Moses, in the previous verses of this chapter, had been pleading and, yes, arguing with God who had promised “meat” for the hundreds of thousands of people in the camp. Moses reminded God about just how big a promise God was making. God asks Moses whether Moses thinks that God’s arm is too short. Moses is challenged to wait and see.
Our reading interrupts the story for immediately after these verses, a tremendous flock, herd, swarm, army of quail land right in the midst of God’s people. You might enjoy reading these verses on your own.
After God’s finishing the argument with Moses, God extends a spirit upon seventy elders who immediately begin prophesying in the camp. This bestowing of the Spirit took place in a holy tent outside the camp. Two men, originally on the list of elders, remained in the camp and so were not included among the elect. Joshua complained to Moses about these two who also received the Spirit, but were not in the right place. Moses responds with the all-inclusive wish for God’s Spirit to embrace all in God’s camp.
The Gospel has two sections. The First has to do with the same question as above. Who can do the works of grace in the name of Jesus? Who belongs and who does not? The second section deals with living out our being included. They can seem separate, but living out virtuously is related intimately with the deep sense and belief that we are blest and sent and meant to be blessings.
John notifies Jesus that someone, not of their starting team, was driving out demons in His Name. Jesus speaks directly to the question; those who do the good of blessing do them with and in Him and are not to be prevented. All truly good works come from and lead back to God. Jesus is revealing that one doing a good and mighty deed, need not have official credentials. The true credential for doing good is our being human, created, and God seems to work mightily through us. Perhaps the test for one doing good in God is inclusiveness. Selectivity or exclusion are not elements of Jesus’ ways. John, who has asked the question about who belongs and who does not, receives an essential teaching concerning the mission of Jesus.
The second section of today’s Gospel is dramatic. Those who are generous toward a follower of Jesus will be blest by doing something as simple as offering a cup of water. There are serious consequences for those who cause others to sin. Just as it would be better to be holy of soul by ridding the body of parts of the body which cause sinning, so anyone who causes another to sin will be cut off and thrown out of the camp. The whole second section then has to do with being a blessing and not a prevention of God’s goodness.
Now I return to my young friend, Dan. Being “better than” is not the sacramental mission. The early apostles certainly were not better than their country-folk. Actually it seems that following Jesus and listening to His teachings, they came to see their own need for conversion. Their questions about who would be first, who belongs, who will be saved, all indicate their self-centered attitudes. They were not “better than”, but being spun around, turned upside down and sent out to be with their human brothers and sisters. They were sent, not to impress, but to turn their attitudes around as well about their being loved and blest.
The encounters with Jesus by the apostles, and our sacramental meetings with Jesus are all the same. We are always being formed to be “better for” and not better than. The prophets, the apostles, are in the same need as those to whom the prophets and apostles were and are, sent. Jesus came onto the earth to meet us eye to eye, hand to hand. He meets us in every sacrament in this way. Meeting us in our fragility so that we will not be paralyzed by this fragility, but inspired and incarnated to embrace the fragility around us. This is the “better for” of Jesus. It seems when I allow my fears of, and experiences of not being good enough, Jesus embraces me and them, invites me into His camp and then sends me out, more embracingly reverent of the humanity He came to bless. It seems I am better for you when He has made me better than I judge myself to be.
“O Lord, remember the words you spoke to me, your servant, which made me live in hope, and consoled me when I was downcast.” Ps. 119, 49-50
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