Sunday, Sept. 30, is the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Numbers 11:25-29, Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14, James 5:1-6, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48.
This Sunday’s readings have two prominent themes. The first is that God can work outside of expected, formal situations.
We see this in the reading from Numbers, where God takes some of the spirit he gave to Moses and endows 70 elders with it. Two of the elders — Eldad and Medad — weren’t present for the ceremony, yet God gave them the spirit, as well, and they prophesied. Upon learning this, Joshua asked Moses to stop them — perhaps implying that they were delinquent in not coming to the ceremony, and therefore had no right to prophecy. But Moses took a more generous attitude and said he could wish all of God’s people were prophets.
Something similar happens in the Gospel, where the disciples report to Jesus that they told an exorcist to stop driving out demons in Jesus’ name because “he does not follow us.” Jesus, too, took a more generous attitude, telling them, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”
This shows us that, out of his love, God can bestow his grace and work miracles, even outside of the situations we would expect. It also shows us that, when he does so, we should take a generous attitude toward it — an important lesson for us and the ecumenical situation we face today.
The second theme deals with sin. St. James warns his readers — particularly rich ones who have exploited the poor — that their comeuppance will arrive. They have indeed “stored up treasure for the last days,” but not in the way they thought! “Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud.” Exploitative landowners have actually accumulated a “wealth” of judgment.
To keep such judgment from happening to us, Jesus tells us we must deal decisively with sin. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”; “and if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off”; “and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” This is a classic example of hyperbole, or exaggeration to make a point. Jesus doesn’t intend us to literally make ourselves handless, lame or blind. Doing those things wouldn’t actually deal with the problem, since — as he says elsewhere — sin actually proceeds from our hearts, from our inner selves. Instead, his point is that we must do whatever it takes to deal effectively with sin.
Part of that effort is prayer. We need God’s help to overcome our innate, sinful tendencies. His grace is what allows us to conquer them. We will make mistakes, even unintentionally, without being aware of it. Thus the Psalmist praises God’s commandments and says, “though your servant is careful of them, very diligent in keeping them, yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults!”
At the same time, God can empower us so that we avoid mortal sin. Thus the Psalmist also prays, “From wanton sin especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and innocent of serious sin.” This should ever be our prayer, so we lay up real treasure for the last days.
Jimmy Akin is the senior apologist at Catholic Answers,
a contributing editor to Catholic Answers Magazine
and a weekly guest on Catholic Answers Live. He blogs at NCRegister.com.