It is an amazing thing that there are actually people who do not put salt on popcorn, mustard on hot dogs, dressings on salads, or butter on toast! There is a little saying, “About taste, there is no argument.” Well, that is a nice-sounding idea, but tastes do differ and my preferences might collide with yours in a little dispute now and then
As we live the tasty life of the Eucharist, we well might pray with the differences of others. Everybody is different and some differences we enjoy and others are a threat or bother or argumentative for us. We could pray with the goodness of all that tastes good to us and perhaps evaluate why the tastes of others are upsetting to us. Living with differences seems to be all right as long as we can be grateful for mine and thine.
The Book of Numbers contains an historical account of various events in the life of the nation of Israel. Complaining to God is a thread which weaves the pattern of how God cared for them. The chapter from which our First Reading is taken centers around such griping.
Israel had been wandering in the desert and they have little to eat. Perhaps you have been outside your own country with its native foods and you began thinking and then remembering and then almost tasting what was not available right around you. The people began thinking of the vegetables they had at hand while they were in Egypt as slaves. God promises even a better menu would be coming soon.
They have been marching along and Moses is quite burdened with the demands of leadership and the complaints of the people. God tells Moses to select seventy elders who would receive the same spirit of holiness which God had shared with Moses and Joshua. This anointing would be given to them to assist him and help carry the burdens. Ah, but two of the elders were inside the camp and not in the exact and proper place to receive the blessing. Neverteeless these two were found prophesizing in the camp, though they were not in the official starting lineup. When Joshua complains on behalf of the group of elders, Moses expresses a wonderful wish. He would have the Lord inspire all the people with the spirit so they might live and speak as prophets.
The Gospel has a little of the same theme about who belongs and who doesn’t. Somebody is reported to be driving out evil spirits in Jesus’ name, but is not a bonafied member of the “God-squad”. Jesus, as did Moses, calms down everything with a few wise words.
These verses continue from last week’s Gospel. Jesus is still holding a child in His arms and refers to this little person as He makes a wisdom statement. Those who are with us cannot be against us. The more important thing is to live the holy life of reflecting the love of God and thereby not spreading the plague of sin to others. Holding the child, Jesus, as did Moses, wishes all to live in such a way as not to cause even this child to know what sin is. This is a stronger way to drive out the evil spirit in Christ’s name.
The final verses are a strong condemnation of those who cause sin to flourish and so infect others. They would be better not to have had a beginning than to experience the endings of their lives in torment and for ever.
There is a cute little theory that sin is spread genetically. At the moment of conception, when human life begins, that life is tilting a bit toward what we call “sin”. You might say that we don’t have a chance. It is one of many thoughts. It is true that we have to spend years learning to be virtuous. So we are born into and live our days in the tension between being “with” Jesus and being “against”. The real sin which gains such condemnation by Jesus is that of causing others to tilt even more toward being “against”.
My dear father had a great excuse-saying when any one of us six did something wrong in the presence of guests, “Well, we have bad neighbors.” The family is where we are likely to experience ourselves as both sinner and saved. My parents did not “cause” me to sin; they provided the opportunity for me by giving me brothers and sisters. They did not “cause” me to sin, but provided the scenery and props for me to see the “cause” was inside me somewhere.
I knew what “sin” was in my family experience, but even more I knew even more directly what forgiveness and true holiness was. My mother saved my father from the slow death of alcohol. My father embraced my younger brother the morning after he had totaled the family car. My brother had gotten his license that very day. My dad made my brother drive the new car home three days later. Get the picture? My minor transgressions which will go unmentioned were likewise dispensed with parental grace.
Where sin comes from, blamed Adam, blamed parents, other persons, that is not as important as where do we learn about redemption, recovery, holiness? Sin is like this “Swine Flu” going around the world. On my flight to Korea this past summer, I spent fifteen hours in one plane breathing rebreathed air and I contacted a respiratory infection. Now somebody was the cause! Sin is different. Sin tilts us toward the earth, selfishness, violence.
We are the “elders” the “prophets” Moses wished for. In families, communities, classes, playgrounds, dormitories, even in the workplaces, we are inspired to be more the cause of grace than dis-grace, more agents of the straight, than tilters toward darkness.
“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, 4-5
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