(Ordinary Time – B Cycle)
James 5, 1-6
“…Who is not one of us” (Mk 9,38). This phrase resumes well the temptation to monopolize the action and presence of God in a movement or in a religious group, a lived temptation also by Joshua (first reading) and by John (gospel). Though apparently, it is an attitude that looks to conserve the purity of faith, it is in reality, a degeneration of the faith. The authentic believers knows that God is always greater and that “the Spirit blows where it pleases” (Jn 3,8). The response of Moses: “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all!” (Num 11,29), or that of Jesus: “anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9,40), is a condemnation of any integrating and monopolizing attitude of God. Whoever condemns others because “they are not one of us” demonstrates smallness, sectarianism, and fear of losing privileges. For this reason, the Church of Christ does not live for herself, nor controls the gospel for her own good, but rather is a sign and sacrament of the kingdom and rejoices always that the seeds of the kingdom overflow and grow even outside of ecclesiastical boundaries (cf. Phil 1,15-20).
The first reading (Numbers 11,25-29) narrates the known episode of the effusion of the spirit on the seventy elders meeting in the tent, chosen by Moses to help him in leading the people in the desert. Such an effusion is the response of God to the complaints of Moses that now he cannot do it alone with the weight of all the people (Num 11,11-15). This “spirit” that God gives to the elders, the text says, is part of the “spirit of Moses” (Num 11,25). This treats of that part of the “spirit,” conceived as dynamic of God that creates, orders and moves history and man and woman, and that Moses possesses as guide and leader of the people. It is certainly a conception of the spirit expressed in primitive and simple terms, as if the spirit was a quantity more that a quality. God, that has placed Moses as the responsible of the people, has given him also the gifts and capacities to carry out to completion this plan. He has filled him with the spirit of God. And if the collaborators of Moses, the elders, will have to help him carry part of the burden that has been entrusted to him, also they certainly will have to receive a part of his qualities, that is to say, of “his spirit,” of the spirit of God that animates the mission of Moses (v. 25).
That which is the most disconcerting of the text, nevertheless is narrated in verses 26-29. Two of the elders called to the tent did not assist at the official time with Moses and stayed in the camp: Eldad and Medad (v. 26). And something happened unexpectedly: “the spirit came down on them; these began to prophesy in the camp” (v. 26). The “spirit” that invades them acts outside of the prescribed rules. Curiously, God himself had established the tent of meeting as the place for receiving the spirit (Num 11,16), but then it does not remain hampered by a pre-established norm. The Spirit does not remain imprisoned and acts outside of the seventy elders and the prescribed rules, far from the tent of meeting. The “spirit” is liberty and can communicate himself as much in the meeting tent, that is in the center of the camp, as also on the periphery of the camp itself. The spirit is free and sovereign. It is above Moses. Surprising. It is newness and total liberty. The investiture o Eldad and Medad it is not totally official. It is the fruit of the surprising action of the spirit of God, though disconcerting. A youth alerts Joshua to what has happened and Joshua tells Moses to establish order, that saves normality and established rules: “My Lord Moses, stop them!” (v. 28). Nevertheless, Moses approves of the action of God: “If only the whole people of the Lord were prophets, and the Lord gave his Spirit to them all” (Num 11,29). The text teaches that the authentic “center” is that which recognizes the action of God in peripheral persons and elements and that, therefore, accepts the originality and liberty of the Spirit that can raises up in any site and situation charisms to enrich and guide the people. The excessive centralization of authority is, therefore, a way of acting “not very spiritual!”
The second reading (James 5,1-6) concludes the reading of the letter of James that has been proclaimed on the last few Sundays. The text that is read today is hard. It is an impassioned and ardent invective, in the style of Amos, the field prophet, implacable adversary of the injustices that are hidden in the high spheres of political and economic power. The renunciation of James, as that of Amos, is clear and direct. It is useless to comment to sweeten it and to make it less offensive and uncomfortable. The text has a very strong eschatological flavor. James places himself at the end of history, when God will emit a judgment on the conduct of men and women. And the judgment on the unjust rich and avarice will be an implacable condemnation. It is more, from now “you wealth is all rotting, you clothes are all eaten up by moths.” (v.2). And “laborers mowed you fields, and you cheated them – listen to the wages that you kept back, calling out; realize that the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (v. 4); “condemned, killed the innocent” (v. 6). For this reason, God destines the rich to suffer “the day slaughter” (v. 5). Their end is irredeemably negative and mortal. The Lord does not tolerate economic inequality and injustice against the poor.
The gospel (Mark 9,38-43.45.47-48) situates us, as last Sunday, during the journey that Jesus make toward Jerusalem instructing his disciples. John brings up to Jesus an unheard of fact: “Master, we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in you name; and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him” (v. 38). “To cast out demons” is an expression that describes adequately the mystery of the coming of the kingdom, as destruction of evil and full humanization of the person as child of God. That which is strange is that this happens now by means of someone that does not belong to the group, to the Christian community. It is someone that is outside, that does not share in the life, nor in the structures of the group of the disciples, but that acts in the name of Jesus, that is to day, experiencing the power and the grace that can come only from his person and from his liberating message. John represents a continuous temptation in the Church, the attitude of those that do not tolerate nor accept that the good and the truth exist also outside of the Christian community. That exorcism of which the text speaks is a clear manifestation of the messianic power of Jesus with which the reign of God goes on growing in history as a small mustard seed. John – representative of ecclesiastical officials – does not pretend to control the messianic power of Christ, nor insert it in the group of disciples so that it may be authentic. Above all, after the Passover, Jesus Christ has been changed into source of life for humanity. And, the horizon of his action, that coincides with the strength and vitality of the Spirit, does not remain enclosed in any institution. For this reason, no group, nor any movement can arrogate in exclusive possession nor the power, nor the grace, nor the truth of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus Christ.
The response of Jesus appears in clear opposition with the attitude of John: “You must not stop him: no one who works a miracle in my name is likely to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mk 9,40). Jesus has not come to start a sect. With him, the kingdom of God becomes present among men and women. For this reason, his community does not live for itself, nor closes itself blindly before the good and truth that appears beyond its borders. The Church exists to serve the kingdom, to irradiate and second the action of the “name of Jesus” as source of life to all men and women, in all times and in all places.
The gospel concludes with another teaching of Jesus, this time about the “scandal of the little ones” (vv. 42-48). Jesus adverts that the gift of faith is so great that it is necessary to conquer oneself, until death if it would be necessary, so as not to be an obstacle for the good of one’s brother or sister. Implicitly is used the Pauline language of the “mature” Christians (the most formed, most secure, most experienced and free) and the “small” (the less formed and more insecure), that reflects a certain division in the primitive Church. Jesus invites the mature disciples to control with the greatest care their social behavior (foot, hand) and personal behavior (eye) to avoid pride of one’s own security that could become a cause of evil for brothers and sisters that look for God with simplicity and sincerity.