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The Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 26, 2021

Watch this homily! (Begins at 34:05)

 

    "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord's spirit would be given to them all." Those words of Moses in today's first reading from the Book of Numbers were his rather surprising response to a situation that could have been downright threatening to him. Remember who Moses was: he was the leader of God’s chosen people and their liberator.  They looked to him for everything. For the people of Israel, the voice of Moses was the voice of God.

     But Moses was human, too, and when he became overburdened, God took some of the Spirit that was on him and gave it to seventy elders of the people who then also began to speak in God's name and with God's authority.

     That was one thing. But, then, two mavericks with the unlikely names of Eldad and Medad - total outsiders who hadn't even been present along with the seventy elders - began speaking in God’s name, too. A fearful, small-minded leader would have gotten nervous at that point – jealous of his authority. Not Moses. When he learned of it he expressed delight:  "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord's spirit would be given to them all...!"

     Moses was not one to place limits on God or on the workings of God's Spirit. Nor was Jesus. In today's Gospel passage from Mark we have something of a parallel. Instead of those two prophets without portfolio, Eldad and Medad, we have someone presuming to cast out demons in Jesus' name. And some nervous disciples try to put a stop to it. Jesus' response sounds a little like Moses: "Do not stop him. Whoever is not against us is for us!"

     Both these readings score a point for religious tolerance and pluralism. They speak about welcoming truth no matter where it comes from - even when it comes from ‘outsiders’ - maybe even from outside the ranks of believers – which was one of the great break-throughs of the Second Vatican Council. The truth, after all, is one. It is never a private possession. The truth lives in unexpected places as today’s scriptures make clear. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” said Jesus. And “Would that all God’s people were prophets and that the Lord’s Spirit were given to all!” said Moses.

     I hear something further in these readings, too: a call to avoid an ‘insider-outsider’ mentality. In the Church there are no outsiders. God’s Spirit has been poured out in abundance on us all. The inscription around our baptistery says it all: we are all of us “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”  Moses’ dream that all God’s people might be prophets has been realized – in you and in me – in all the holy people of God, the Church.

     The implications of this are far-reaching. If the Church is a priestly, prophetic and holy people - the entire Church - then wisdom, knowledge and understanding are not sparingly doled out by a favored few at the top to the many and the motley at the bottom. No. That is bad theology. There is only the Body of Christ in which gifts are poured out in abundance by the Spirit who "breathes where it will," as Jesus said to Nicodemus.

     All of this couldn’t be more timely in light of a sweeping – even radical - reform Pope Francis has in mind for the Church’s power structures. The Pope is going to convene the Synod of Bishops in the year 2023. There’s nothing unusual about that – the Church has one of these Synods every few years. But this one will be different. In the lead-up to this Synod – a word which, by the way, means ‘to journey together,’- Pope Francis wants to hear from the people in the pews, as many of us as possible. So, he has asked the bishops of the world to find ways to gather their people together, to listen to them, and (and here I’m quoting the official document from Rome): “to give them the ability to imagine a different future for the Church and her institutions.” Quite a statement!

     I think I can say without qualification that never before in the history of the Church has a consultation on this scale taken place. It has the potential to revolutionize the way decisions are made in the Church.

     Exactly how all this will happen has yet to be worked out, but one thing is certain: Pope Francis wants to hear from the people, and he wants the bishops to hear from the people, and he wants the people to listen to each other, too. And when the bishops gather in Rome two years from now – the hope is that they will bring with them the hopes and dreams as well as the challenges and frustrations that are on people’s hearts and minds, including people who are often on the sidelines.

      What an opportunity for each one of us to exercise our baptismal birthright! Or, to quote the words of the synodal document: “the purpose of this Synod is to listen, as the entire People of God, to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church.” Those in Church leadership — bishops, priests, lay leaders — clearly have our work cut out for us. The months ahead should prove to be very interesting, so stay tuned!

     I return to where I began. To Moses' great dream: "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord's spirit would be given to them all." It sounds like Pope Francis has bought into that great dream of Moses. I hope we will, too – we who are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart to proclaim the wonderful works of God who has called us out of darkness into marvelous light...!"

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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