A reflection by Fr. Ron MacDonell, S.F.M., on Numbers 11.25-29, James 5.1-6 and Mark 9. 38-43,45,47-48

In this Gospel, Jesus presents two important teachings meant to “prune” us, his disciples. First, he addresses the narrow-mindedness of the disciples. They wished to stop a person not part of their group who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Their attitude is paralleled by Moses’ followers who wished to prohibit Eldad and Medad from prophesying because they had remained in the camp rather than enter the tent. Jesus challenges this attitude, saying that “Whoever is not against us if for us.” God’s spirit of prophesy and healing does not belong to a small select group. It is the Holy Spirit that works through all who are rooted in love, compassion and thirst for justice.

Next, Jesus warns us about becoming obstacles. He radically suggests that if our hand, or our foot, or our eye should cause us to stumble, we should cut them off. Better to enter eternal life maimed than to be “whole” and cast out from God’s love. These sayings invite us to examine our behaviour. What work do we do with our hands? Do we work to help others, or do our hands work only for our own monetary gain? Where do our feet take us? Do they take us to visit the sick and the prisoners, to the church or to community meetings? Or do our feet take us only to shopping malls, or to questionable forms of entertainment? Do we use our eyes to look for the poor to befriend them? Or do we look only to the rich, hoping to gain influence? Do we use our eyes for prayer and education, or do we waste too much time watching television and surfing the internet? Theses sayings of Jesus invite us to make choices using our very bodies – our eyes, hands and feet – to see and serve the poor, rather than seeking self-interest.

Finally, St. James speaks very strongly about the futility of riches and the injustice of oppression. He warns that “…the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts,” recalling words God spoke to Moses, “‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings…’” (Exodus 3.7). God hears our suffering, especially that of people who live in abject misery and oppression. God responds through Jesus, the Son, who calls us to freedom and to seek peace and justice. We, his Church, are the eyes, hearts, hands and feet that serve Jesus, who lives in our sisters and brothers.

God’s word today calls us to be open to the Spirit working in all who do good, to examine our lives so that we do not become obstacles to others, and to live in solidarity with the poor.