FR MICHAEL BIBLICAL IMAGERY
(Fr Michael Boakye Yeboah: Vice Rector of St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)
THE DESIRABLE AND THE UNDESIRABLE.
Today’s readings present two important issues working against Christian unity and purity. Unity and purity were the two main requests Jesus placed before his Father for his disciples. The Lord prayed: ‘Father let them be one as we are one’; and in another instance he prayed: ‘…be holy as your heavenly Father is holy.’ John and Joshua in the first reading and first part of the Gospel wanted to prevent others in acting in the name of God because they did not belong to the main group, while in the second part of the Gospel and the second reading we are advised against unacceptable behaviour of any person who calls himself/herself a leader in a Christian community. Unity and exemplary life should be “desirable” among Christians while disunity and scandalous lifestyles should not be encouraged among Christians.
The Gospel has two parts (Mark 9:38-42 and 43-48). The first part speaks of the permissible and tolerable, the second of the unbearable. It is tolerable that someone who does not belong to the community of Christ does something wholesome in Jesus’ name. If he calls upon that name, he can scarcely be opposed to Jesus. The community needs to know that Christian thoughts and deeds are not limited to the community. God is powerful enough to let a particular Christian stance – offering a cup of water (Matt. 10:42) – occur outside the Church and to reward the benefactor.
In contrast, it is unbearable when someone outside or inside the Church misleads those who are spiritually or morally unfortified (“one of these little ones”). The spiritual “superiority” with which he seeks to lead the simple believer astray is satanic and merits merciless annihilation. But man can seduce himself: his evil desires lie in his hands, feet, and eyes, and he ought to move as mercilessly against these as against the seducer of others. Whatever leads astray should be destroyed; in graphic terms, the member that stimulates one to evil should be hacked off. A spiritually divided man does not reach God; anything in him that is contrary to God belongs to hell.
The other two readings can be viewed as explications of the two parts of the Gospel. In the first reading two of the seventy men singled out by God to receive the Spirit stayed behind in the camp instead of leaving with Moses. The Spirit descended upon them too, and they began to speak prophetically. Joshua wanted to stop them, but Moses let the Spirit alone – he would have been happiest if the Spirit had fallen upon the entire nation. The limits one would like to burden the Spirit with do not matter to him, who “blows where he will” (John 3:8). His order does not always coincide with the Church’s order, even though he himself prescribes the ecclesial order that the Church has to follow. Nor dare the Church turn the Spirit’s freedoms into rules for her own privileges and tolerances. God’s thoughts are high above man’s thoughts, which must follow God’s instructions. Because the Spirit operates in such ways, discernment should be highly encouraged. As a Church historian, I am much familiar in moments of the Church’s past when we thought certain things can never be changed but when the time came the Spirit led us to those changes. For example, in the Church’s liturgy let us look at the changes since the Council of Trent. Did Catholics who lived during Trent envisage this Vatican II liturgy? Who ever thought that a language apart from Latin would be used for Mass? That is how the Spirit works.
The second reading reveals what is unbearable for Christians: a wealth that feeds on the wages withheld from workers; a surfeit that does not abate even though God’s judgment day is dawning (here it is referred to as the day of slaughter); a wealth that is already “rotten”, and piles of “gold and silver that are corroded”. In the Old Testament the righteous one at whose expense the powerful have enriched themselves, is the “poor of Yahweh”. As Christians let us always pursue things that leads to unity and purity of life.