26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

by David Scott


Numbers 11:25–29  

Psalm 19:8,10,12–14 

James 5:1–6   

Mark 9:38–48


Christ's Head Unknown Flemish Master, 16th c. (The Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp)
Christ’s Head Unknown Flemish Master, 16th c. (The Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp)

To Belong to Christ

Today’s Gospel begins with a scene that recalls a similar moment in the history of Israel, the episode recalled in today’s First Reading. The seventy elders who receive God’s Spirit through Moses prefigure the ministry of the apostles.

Like Joshua in the First Reading, John makes the mistake of presuming that only a select few are inspired and entrusted to carry out God’s plans. The Spirit blows where it wills (see John 3:8), and God desires to bestow His Spirit on all the people of God, in every nation under heaven (see Acts 2:5, 38).

God can and will work mighty deeds through the most unexpected and unlikely people. All of us are called to perform even our most humble tasks, such as giving a cup of water, for the sake of His name and the cause of His kingdom.

John believes he is protecting the purity of the Lord’s name. But, really, he’s only guarding his own privilege and status. It’s telling that the apostles want to shut down the ministry of an exorcist. Authority to drive out demons and unclean spirits was one of the specific powers entrusted to the Twelve (see Mark 3:14–15; 6:7, 13).

Cleanse me from my unknown faults, we pray in today’s Psalm. Often, like Joshua and John, perhaps without noticing it, we cloak our failings and fears under the guise of our desire to defend Christ or the Church.

But as Jesus says today, instead of worrying about who is a real Christian and who is not, we should make sure that we ourselves are leading lives worthy of our calling as disciples (see Ephesians 1:4).

Does the advice we give, or the example of our actions, give scandal—causing others to doubt or lose faith? Do we do what we do with mixed motives instead of seeking only the Father’s will? Are we living, as this Sunday’s Epistle warns, for our own luxury and pleasure, and neglecting our neighbors?

We need to keep meditating on His Law, as we sing in today’s Psalm. We need to pray for the grace to detect our failings and to overcome them.

St. Augustine
Third Sermon on Psalm 36

Give of your earthly goods and receive eternal ones; give earth and receive heaven. But give to whom?… Hear Scripture telling you how you are to lend to the Lord himself: “He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord” (Prv 19,17). God most certainly is in no need of you, but another is in need; what you give to the one is received by another. For the poor has nothing with which to pay you back; he would like to but cannot find anything. The only thing he has is a kindly wish to pray for you. But when a poor man prays for you it is as though he were to say to God: “Lord, I’ve received a loan; be my security.” From then on, if the poor man you do business with is insolvent, he has a sound guarantee, for God says to you: “Give with assurance; I stand surety… It is I who will pay back, I who receive, I to whom you give.”

Do you really believe that God would say to you: “It is I who receive and to me that you give”? Yes indeed, if Christ is God – and of that there is no question. For he said: “I was hungry and you gave me food.” And when asked: “When did we see you hungry?”, wanting to prove that he is indeed surety for the poor he answers on behalf of all his members… declaring, “Whatever you did for the least of my disciples, you have done to me” (Mt 25,34f.).

Julian of Norwich
Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 35-36

God himself is true righteousness, and all his works are rightly done for they were ordained before time, by his supreme might, wisdom and goodness. Just as he has ordained them for the best, so too he works continually, to achieve the best end. ..

Mercy is the work of God’s goodness and will continue to work as long as sin is allowed to harry righteous souls. And when sin is given leave no longer, … then all will have been brought into righteousness and will remain so for ever.  By God’s permission we fall; and by his blessed love, power and wisdom, we are kept; and by his mercy and grace we are raised to many, many more joys. So for his righteousness and mercy he intends to be known and loved now and for ever….

Though I were to do nothing but sin, my sin would still not prevent his goodness from working. I saw that the recognition of this fact brought a heavenly joy to the God-fearing soul who, by his kind grace, desired to do God’s will.  This deed shall be begun here on earth; it shall be worthy of God and abundantly beneficial to all his lovers. As soon as we reach heaven we shall see it with marvelling joy and so it shall work out until the Last Day; and the worship and the bliss of it shall last in heaven, before God and all his holy saints, without end…

This will be the most wonderful joy imaginable, to see the deed that God himself shall do, while man can do no better than sin! Our Lord God means in as many words: “Look! Here here you have material for humility, for love, for total self-denial, for enjoying me. Because I love you, enjoy me! This will please me most of all.”

Pope Benedict XVI
Angelus Address, September 30, 2012

This Sunday’s Gospel presents one of those episodes in Christ’s life which, even if they are noted, so to speak en passant, contain a profound meaning (cf. Mk 9:38-41).

The event involved someone who was not a follower of Jesus but who had expelled demons in his name. The Apostle John, a young man and ardently zealous as he was, wanted to prevent him but Jesus did not permit this; on on the contrary, he drew inspiration from this circumstance to teach his disciples that God could work good and even miraculous things even outside their circle, and that it is possible to cooperate with the cause of the Kingdom of God in different ways, even by simply offering a missionary a glass of water (v. 41).

St Augustine wrote in this regard: “as, therefore, there is in the Catholic — meaning the Church — something which is not Catholic, so there may be something which is Catholic outside the Catholic Church” (cf. On Baptism, Against the Donatists, PL 43, VII, 39, 77).

Therefore if a stranger to the community does good works in Christ’s name, so long as he does so with upright intentions and with respect, members of the Church must not feel jealous but must rejoice.

Even within the Church, people can find it difficult, in the spirit of deep communion, to value and appreciate good things achieved by the different ecclesial entities. Instead, we must all and always be able to appreciate one another, praising God for the infinite “creativity” with which he acts in the Church and in the world.

The stream of invective of the Apostle James against the dishonest rich who rely on wealth accumulated by abuse, rings out in today’s Liturgy (cf. Jas 5:1-6).

St Caesarius of Arles says in this regard in one of his sermons: “riches can do no harm to a good man, so long as he gives them compassionately, just as they cannot help a wicked man, so long as he keeps them greedily for himself or wastes them in dissipation” (Sermons, 35, 4).

While the Apostle James’ words put us on guard against the worthless desire for material goods, they are a powerful appeal to use them with a view to solidarity and the common good, always acting with fairness and morality at all levels.

Dear friends, let us pray through the intercession of Mary Most Holy that we may be able to rejoice in every act and initiative for good without envy or jealousy and that we may use earthly goods wisely, in the constant search for heavenly goods.