Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Numbers 11:25-29
This is a somewhat confused story. Moses had appointed seventy elders to assist him in governing the people in the wilderness. The elders were given a share in some of the “spirit” of Moses to assist them. This resulted in a temporary manifestation of charismatic prophecy among the seventy elders.
After it ceased, two men, Eldad and Medad, received a belated illapse [incoming] of the spirit and likewise engaged in charismatic prophecy. (This is the confusing part.) It appears that Eldad and Medad were not members of the group of seventy elders, that is, not in the legitimate succession.
An overzealous young man urged Moses to stop them from exercising an unauthorized ministry but Moses refused—the Spirit cannot be confined to regularly appointed offices. Its freedom to blow where it wills is a pointer to the day when the whole people of God will prophesy—an aspiration that Christian faith can see fulfilled at Pentecost.
The caption does not adequately express the reason for the choice of this reading. The question is not “Who decrees that all may prophesy?” but “Does God confine the gift of his Spirit to authorized channels?” That is the question raised in today’s Gospel.
Responsorial Psalm: 19:8, 10, 12-13, 14
Although this psalm is used on other occasions (the Easter Vigil and the Third Sunday of the year in series C), this is the only place in our Sunday series where this very fine prayer that we may be cleansed of our secret faults, especially the sin of pride, occurs. (I remember being told by the conductor of my pre-ordination retreat that this prayer should constantly be on the lips of a priest.)
Its relation to the Old Testament reading is not immediately apparent, but perhaps if Moses had used his authority to stop unauthorized charismatics, it would have been an expression of the sin of clerical pride and a misuse of clerical power!
Reading II: James 5:1-6
This exhortation, the tenth in the series in the Letter of James, is allegedly based on the name of Asher (Gen 49:20). It is a warning to the rich against exploiting their employees.
Like the selection for the twenty-third Sunday, this is one of the few New Testament passages that shows concern for social justice (the reasons for this comparative silence were indicated in our comments on the twenty-third Sunday).
Again, the author is careful to provide a theological basis for his social ethic: the cry of the exploited has “reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” The divine title deliberately recalls the Old Testament prophets and their social teaching.
Gospel: Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
[Note: The apparent omission of verses 44 and 46 is due to the fact that these verses are mere repetitions of verse 48 and do not appear in the earliest and best manuscripts.]
This passage combines two different traditions. The first is the pericope about the strange exorcist; the second, a series of warnings against offenses, which appear in a different context in Q (Luke 17:1-2), and in yet another context in the Matthean redaction of Q (Matt 5:29-30).
Mark’s arrangement has the effect of making the sayings against offenses a comment on the episode of the strange exorcist. To forbid the exorcist would be to cause one of these little ones to stumble, an effect to be avoided at all costs.
Reginald H. Fuller