HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B (26/9/2021)

HOMILY FOR THE TWENTY-SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B (26/9/2021)

 Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai

DANGERS DISCIPLES MUST AVOID

Mark rounded up his classes on discipleship in the Gospel reading of today. At the end, John practically called Jesus a Teacher. A teacher is one who brings people out of darkness into light; a teacher corrects, helps and explains; a teacher helps students, have a clear vision, avoid dangers and keep themselves safe. Generally, in today’s readings, we are presented with certain religious dangers we must avoid as disciples.

The first reading and the gospel call us to avoid jealousy. Some of the people wanted Moses to stop Medad and Eldad from prophesying because they were not at the Tent of Meeting when the Lord sent his spirit on the people. John in the Gospel reported to Jesus that one who is not a disciple was casting out demons. Both accounts reflect jealousy. Jealousy is an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has.  Jealousy may be driven by low self-esteem or a poor self-image. Other times, jealousy can be caused by unrealistic expectations about things or affairs. Prov.14:30 makes us to understand that jealousy is rottenness to the bones. Beloved, let us learn to accept people and their various gifts; let us learn to accept those who believe in God but do not belong to us. In fact; let us learn from them where it is possible. In 1Sam. 3, Samuel could hear from God even when Eli the priest could not. Yet Eli guided Samuel to understand God’s call – Spiritual maturity. Let us learn to manifest true Christian maturity.

Again, we must avoid scandal. In Mark 9:42 Jesus says “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.” Scandal destroys the faith of those who are entrusted to us. Scandals from Christians increase unbelief in Jesus. A scandalous person is his neigbhour’s tempter. Scandal draws a neigbhour into spiritual death.

More so, a good disciple must avoid all forms of fanaticism.  Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal or an obsessive enthusiasm. This kind of behavior was displayed in the first reading. Philosopher George Santayana defines fanaticism as “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim”. Those instigating Moses to stop others from prophesying were redoubling their efforts but forgot their aim. The aim was to speak on behalf of God. Many persons today are just fanatical in their religious practice. They have completely forgotten the goal of religion and the purpose of their faith. So, they kill, plot evil and device wickedness and call it faith.  Zeal is good but we must not be uncritical about our zeal.

Today’s second reading says “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” This implies that a good disciple must avoid exploitation. Don’t use people to work and cease their pay. Industrial action in the country today is a function of exploitation. Refusal to pay workers their due. Even when we buy a bottle of groundnut oil or kerosene and refuse to pay we exploit the sellers.

Conclusively, we must avoid these dangers that destroy our Christian vocation. Jesus says in the gospel that we must cut them off. He says “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.” Beloved, if your office will lead you to sin, resign, it is better to be selected into heaven than to be elected into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. God bless you.

 Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)

TOWARDS A SHARED RESPONSIBILITY AND PROSPERITY
A Biblical Model of Decentralized Governance and Economics

Dear friends, the readings in today’s liturgy inspire us to reflect on the theme of governance and economics. While many leaders tend to want to jealously guard their authority and influence and often constitute themselves into some sort of “gods” besides whom there are no others, the readings today show us that such a model only ends up overburdening the leader, ultimately making him or her less effective (1st and Gospel Readings).

In the same vein, while many employers of labour tend to focus on amassing more and more profit for themselves, often neglecting the wellbeing of their employees, the readings today show us the futility of such a model (2nd Reading). Therefore, the Bible proposes a model of governance and economics that considers empowering others in view of sharing authority/responsibility and prosperity.

In the 1st Reading (Num 11:25-29), Moses had rightly complained of the weight of the burden of responsibility before him (cf. 11:11-15) and the Lord responded to his genuine complaint by asking him to appoint seventy elders of the people and bring them to the Tent of Meeting which is the Lord’s dwelling place. The Lord pledged to empower these select elders with some of Moses’ spirit so they can share the burden of leadership with him (cf. 11:16-17).

After Moses had gathered the select men before the Lord’s Tent of Meeting, the Lord came down in a cloud, drew upon the spirit that was on Moses and bestowed it upon the select seventy elders, thus prompting them to prophesy (11:24-25), including two of them (Eldad and Medad) who had remained in their camp and could not go to the Tent of meeting (11:26). In the last part of v. 25, we are told that the seventy elders who received a share in Moses’ spirit “prophesied but did not continue” or “did so no more”, a statement that apparently places a limit to their exercise of the prophetic ministry.

This seems to be an attempt to accommodate the view that there was to be only one legitimate prophet at a time, in this case, only Moses, after whom the Lord will appoint another like him (cf. Deut 18:15-18). It may also point to the need to affirm Moses’ special status in the midst of other possible prophetic figures. Thus, Moses is portrayed as having the fullness of the prophetic spirit while the elders only participated in it in a limited way, analogous to the executive role of ministers as a limited participation in the executive role of the president in a presidential system of government.

This may have been necessitated by the danger of challenging Moses’ unique status, an example of which we see in Numbers 12 where Miriam and Aaron tried to challenge Moses’ authority saying, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well?” (Num 12:2). It is this kind of concern that may have necessitated the young man to run out from the camp to tell Moses that “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp” (11:27), and Joshua, Moses’ special assistant, to speak up saying, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” (11:28).

While all these point to the challenges of decentralized governance and the legitimate fears about it expressed by these other characters in the exposition, the major character, Moses, who is the prophet and is credited to have both practical experience of the burden of having too much responsibility concentrated on him, enjoys the support of the Lord in his advocacy for decentralization and has no qualms whatsoever, having others act also as prophets.

Therefore, Moses dismisses both the young man’s alarm and Joshua’s call to restrain those who were manifesting the prophetic vocation, saying: “hamqannē’ ’attâ li’? (Are you being jealous on my behalf?). Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” (11:29). Thus, out of his genuine desire for a more effective service to the people, Moses jettisons the temptation and the advice of his close associates to concentrate the prophetic authority on himself, and opts instead, for a system of decentralized governance and shared responsibility.

In your own sphere of leadership, what governance model do you employ? One that is obsessed with preserving control or one that prioritizes effective service delivery to the people?

While the 1st reading borders on political models, the 2nd Reading (James 5:1-6) borders on economic models, challenging the economics of exclusive possession and the concentration of wealth in the hands of executives and employers of labour at the expense of employees.

Having announced eschatological misery as the lot of the rich, for which he calls upon them to weep and wail (5:1), James attempts to make the rich understand the futility of the needless wealth they have amassed: “Your riches have rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be evidence against you” (5:2-3).

He also reveals how such kind of immodest wealth is a result of the exploitation of employees, a fraudulent manipulation of the wage structure in a way that disregards the principle of proper compensation of the labourer to favour the accumulation of unjust profit on the part of the employers of labour. Thus we read: “Listen, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4).

The 2nd reading, therefore, speaks for the many poor labourers in our time whose exploitation by the rich condemns them to life threatening conditions of working dangerously hard and often in dangerous conditions but whose wages can hardly feed them or take care of their health or those of their families, while their employers get only richer and care about nothing but their profit. It calls to question our economic models in our own sphere of economic influence. Whether we care at all that the work we provide becomes a means of sharing wealth and empowering others or we basically use our employees to satisfy our obsession with amassing more and more wealth?

In the Gospel (Mk 9:38-48), Jesus’ young disciple, John, tells Jesus how they saw a man who was not part of them, casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and how they tried to stop him. This echoes the effort of the young man in the 1st reading, who runs to tell Moses about Eldad and Medad who were prophesying in the camp, and that of Joshua, who asked Moses to stop or restrain him. Jesus unequivocally asks his disciples not to behave like that: “Do not forbid him”, and then goes on to explain: “for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me; whoever is not against us is for us” (9:39-40).

Clearly, Jesus shows that he is not concerned about having exclusive authority; anybody who believes in the common project can share in this authority, whether he is part of the restricted circle of Jesus or part of a wider followership. As Jesus once taught: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (John 10:16).

And like Moses, Jesus is not jealous of those who share in his authority and he wants us his disciples to have a similar disposition, seeing those who have authority as we have and those who have influence as we have, not as competitors but as collaborators. We should pray that all be blessed by God as we have been blessed; that all be enabled as we have been enabled. As Moses put it, “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” (Num 11:29). This can happen only if our hearts are truly on getting the good job done, and not on some self-serving feeling of higher or even exclusive importance.

May our socio-cultural, geopolitical and ethnoreligious differences not hinder us from identifying our common aspirations and our common responsibility to build a prosperous world together for all of God’s children, not just for a few exclusive ones! Amen!

Fr. Paul Oredipe

NO Fanaticism

“ Anyone who is not against us is for us ” 

In our readings today, Jesus made it clear that all goodness comes from God the Father and that doing charitable works was not the exclusive right or monopoly of his followers.  God moves where He wills and chooses whom He wills.  His spirit, His power is at work beyond the confines of established sects and even religion. 

On our part, we need to develop and practice open-minded respect and love for ALL.  Other persons and people may not be of the same mind, view and opinion with us, but still we have to respect and love them.  It is in doing this that we give thanks to God for giving such gifts to all. 

When we look at it closely, we discover that we seem to have an inborn instinct to treat people who are different from us with scorn, indifference and often with rejection.  Our celebration today emphasizes that this needs not and in fact should not to be so.  We may try to form camps and groups and eliminate others who are not in our party or club.  Our faith teaches us that this is not human, it is not Christian, it is even not Catholic.  (After all ‘catholic’ means universal, worldwide, for all). 

With the best will in the world, we can all fall prey to the type of thinking and misguided notion that only a certain group of people can be used by God and only a limited persons can perform spiritual works.  It is a temptation we all have.  We forget that an action can be good and Godly without being performed by ourselves. 

This is the mistake we find in the First reading and the Gospel of today.  Moses, more than 3000 years ago knew this.  The Israelites, whom he was leading to the Promised Land, had clear ideas about God’s holiness.  They made their camp in the valley, far from the mountain where they believed God lived.  Halfway between the camp and the mountain they built a special tent, a place of meeting between God and their leader Moses.  Anyone who strayed to the mountain was put to death; he or she had trespassed into God’s territory. 

Similarly, they believed that God would not trespass into their own territory by coming into the camp.  The lines were clearly drawn.  Everything was neatly worked out.  They believed they knew where God belonged and where He did not belong. 

But God cannot be limited.  This bitter truth dawned on them the day they were consecrating seventy elders as Moses’ assistants.  As we read in the first reading, the seventy elders had been selected beforehand.  On the day of their consecration they were to present themselves in the Tent of Meeting where the Lord would impose on them some of the spirit that was in Moses.  On the appointed day, they all turned up except two, Eldad and Medad.  Who knows why they failed to turn up?  Did they oversleep, were they drunk, or did they simply forget?  It does not matter.  The important thing is that when the spirit of the Lord descended on the sixty-eight men in the Tent of Meeting, it also descended on these two who were still in the camp.  And they began to prophesy exactly as the other sixty-eight in the Tent. 

God himself is the source of the spirit and He can give it to whomever He chooses, irrespective of human qualifications or recognition.  Moses, for his part, has absolutely the right attitude.  He has no desire to monopolize the spirit or to be its only channel.  He seeks only the people’s welfare and is delighted to see signs of the spirit in other people.  Indeed, he would like all the Israelites to have it. 

In today’s gospel, it is John again who reports to Jesus how he tried to stop a man who did not belong to their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name.  Why did he do that?  Because, according to his poor theology, God should limit Himself to their group. 

The reply of Jesus was very revealing.  It teaches us so much.  Jesus, the new Moses was there to correct him.  “Do not stop him. … Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39-40).  Do not stop him.  He is doing a good job.  It is by their fruit you will know them, not by their foliage. 

Our Lord corrects the exclusivist and intolerant attitude of the Apostles.  St Paul later learned this lesson, as we can see from what he wrote during his imprisonment in Rome.  “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will […].  What then?  Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice”  (Philippians 1:15, 18). 

God’s action cannot be limited to a class of men or women.  God is free from all bonds, boundaries and set rules and he can produce some good wherever he chooses.  He is like the wind.  He blows where He pleases.  He cannot be constrained even within the visible structures of the Church.  We cannot reject people simply because they do not share our same spirituality or do not follow Jesus in the same way we do. 

Jesus meant that we have to work for unity and peace and not give rise to misunderstandings through pride and arrogance. 

In the life of the Church we will certainly find people for and against us.  Envy is the root cause of dissension.  It is the worst thief that robs us of real peace.  We find it not only in the Church, but also in business, between friends and neighbours, within societies, among husband and wife, parents and children, nay, it is in every sphere of life. 

Jealousy can blind us, misguide us and prevent the growth of good.  Jesus taught us that God is our Father who lets the sun shine alike on the good and the bad, the just and the unjust.  He loves everybody.  From Jesus we have to learn to be tolerant and generous.  His message is, “Don’t make divisions.  Don’t exclude people.  My community is open to all.”  Maybe we have to change our thinking there, too. 

Brothers and sisters, what we are asked today is to avoid and reject all forms of fanaticism.  A fanatic is a person who attacks anybody who thinks differently or does not belong to the group.  Such is one who shuts his or her eyes to whatever good the others do, sure that whoever is not with him or her shows approval for his or her plans and ideas is certainly wicked and must be opposed.  This fanatic spirit is very wrong.  A fanatic is one who does not accept that God can do good through people of different background, beliefs and race. 

We are to recognize that God is working in ways we cannot begin to fully imagine for the purpose of God.  He works in everyone everywhere.  There are no limits to how God is working in human beings. 

It is NOT up to us to determine where, when and how God acts.  He loves us too much to allow His actions to be limited by our short sight.  He loves us too much to allow His actions for us to be limited by our narrow minds. 

Even though Our Lord always preached against intolerance, He did not say that we had to consent to or be in agreement with sin.  Respecting the opinions of others even though they may not be the same as ours shows the tolerance that Christ taught.  What we cannot tolerate is sin in whatever form it takes.  Christ Himself pardoned the sins of many people but He never made excuses for sinfulness.  

What the Lord really asks us to do is to follow the road that separates us from sin.  “In your journeying to God, you have to be uncompromising against obstacles.”  Nothing comes before Christ.  Christ must be the Number One in my life. 

 So, in today’s reading from Mark, “Whatever causes you to sin,” Jesus told his disciples, “whatever replaces God in your life, get rid of it.  Whatever the cost – even life itself … let it go.”  It is better for you to enter eternal life, without that possession than to be thrown into hell with it.  This is the message of today’s Gospel:  “If you want to be alive with God’s life, now and forever, let no love so possess you so that God and His Christ take second place in your life.” 

If there is a moral weakness or an evil habit that deforms spiritual health, the treatment must be radical. 

 Jesus is not demanding that we commit self-mutilation.  What He is asking us is to be energetic and decisive in turning away from sin, and turning toward God.  If only we can be so energetic and decisive in avoiding anything that may lead us away from God; that is the cutting off a hand, a foot, or plucking out an eye that we are called to do. 

Let us pray that we may be delivered of all hatred and opposition and that our eyes may be opened to see goodness wherever God wishes to show it. 

 In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

Fr. Evaristus Okeke

UNITY IN DIVERSITY

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off (Mark 9:43a)

The Bible contains the history of God’s journey with the people of Israel. But the Israelites misunderstood this history to mean that God was their exclusive property. And so, any non-Jew was not a child of God. In the New Testament, while many who anticipated the coming of the Messiah found it difficult to accept that Jesus is the Christ, those who seem to accept (including His apostles) still retained fragments of that exclusive mentality, namely, that only those who belong to the circle of Jesus can be heirs of the kingdom. John’s report to Jesus in today’s gospel demonstrated that the disciples not only misunderstood Jesus’ mission, they also never understood the criterion for membership. In response, Jesus patiently taught His listeners that belonging to the kingdom of God is principally by acting in HIS name.

To act in the name of Jesus is to believe and accept Him as the Lord. St. James tells us that without faith, no one can please God. It is faith in God that opens to us the door of salvation. Hence, that person John saw driving out demons in Jesus’ name was a disciple of Jesus by virtue of his faith in the name of Jesus. To act in Jesus’ name is to belong to Him and to use His power.

However powerful it is to act in the name of Christ, it is even more efficacious to act in the person of Christ. To act in the person of Christ means that there is no difference with the action being taking place and that of Christ. Only Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit can configure a person to act in His person. This is what happen at priestly ordination. Whenever the priest celebrates the sacraments, it is Christ Himself who is celebrating. Thus configured, Jesus emphatically stated that whoever contributes to the well-being of His minister will not go unrewarded because such kindness is done to Him directly. Do you have the culture of contributing to the support of your priests?

Moving on, we do not know why this man John saw, did not mingle with the other disciples but this draws our attention to the fact that Jesus has secret disciples. Joseph of Arimathea is another example. Whenever we loose consciousness of the fact that there’s someone whose faith-life is affected by what we do and say, we cause “one of these little ones” who believe in Jesus, to sin. Is it not plausible to assert that the increase of vices in our world today is largely due to bad example from elderly ones which have constituted justification for the young? However, there can be no justification for sin; and so, Jesus quickly added that whatever will cause us to sin, we must cut it off.

From another perspective, the readings of today further draw our attention and teach us the right attitude towards diversity in unity that we must inevitably experience both within and outside the Church. Before Vatican I, it was held that outside the Church, there is no salvation. But Vatican II teaches that Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly endowments for our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. Also we must bear in mind that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can contribute to our own edification. The point is, while other denominations may possess elements of salvation, the fullness of the means of salvation subsists only in the Catholic Church.

This calls for respect, renewal and unity. The Decree on Ecumenism (UR) no.4 states that in ecumenical work, Catholics must assuredly be concerned for their separated brethren, praying for them, keeping them informed about the Church, making the first approaches towards them; but most importantly, make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be renewed and done in the Catholic household itself, in order that its life may bear witness more clearly and faithfully to the teachings and institutions which have been handed down from Christ through the apostles.

Talking about diversity in unity within the Church, we must realize that the Spirit inspires members of the faithful in many ways for the building up of the body of Christ. These varied ways must be recognized, accepted and respected. However, it is the duty of the Church’s hierarchy to properly discern them. The fact is whoever acts in the name of Christ must tilt towards unity and mutual growth. Anyone who claims to be inspired by the Holy Spirit but whose fruits breed division, is a liar. If we must judge people, let it be on the basis of integrity.

Beloved, if we understand and accept this fact, then we will not glory in our possessions when a brother/sister is suffering from lack, nor will we take advantage of the vulnerable amongst us. St James speaks doom of such actions in the second reading.

We pray at this Mass that we may always be guided by the precepts of the Lord and so be sanctified in the truth, through Christ our Lord. Amen. God Bless You!

 Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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