By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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Let God Be God

Numbers 11:16-17,25-29 James 5:1-6 Mark 9:38-43,47-48

Ned goes over to see his neighbour who has a very ferocious-looking dog. As Ned approaches the door the dog begins to bark wildly and his neighbour says to him, "Come on in, Ned! Don't be afraid of my dog. You know the old proverb: A barking dog never bites." "Yes," replied Ned, "I know the proverb, and you know the proverb, but does your dog know it?" Before we have an agreement on when a dog can bite and when it cannot, we must first make sure the dog is party to the agreement. In the same vein, any attempt by humans to legislate on where and through whom God can act or cannot act is nothing but a futile attempt to limit God. For God cannot be limited.

In one diocese in Nigeria a priest began a high-profile prayer ministry in the diocesan pastoral centre. Many other priests had similar prayer ministries in their parishes, but on a smaller scale. Now this priest goes to the bishop and makes him sign a declaration that his prayer ministry is the only officially recognised one in the diocese. Any person in the diocese who needed the healing ministry must, therefore, go nowhere else but to his centre. What that document says, in effect, is that God has no right to heal anybody in the diocese except in the pastoral centre. Such attempts to limit God do not work. God never allows Himself to be so limited by human narrow-mindedness.

Moses, more than 3000 years ago, knew this. The Israelites, whom he was leading to the Promised Land, had clear ideas about God's holiness. They made their camp in the valley, far from the mountain where they believed God lived. Halfway between the camp and the mountain they built a special tent, a place of meeting between God and their leader Moses. Anyone who strayed to the mountain was put to death; he or she had trespassed into God's territory. Similarly, they believed that God would not trespass into their own territory by coming into the camp. The lines were clearly drawn. Everything was neatly worked out. They believed they knew where God belonged and where He did not belong.

But God cannot be limited. This bitter truth dawned on them the day they were consecrating seventy elders as Moses' assistants. As we read in the first reading, the seventy elders had been selected beforehand. On the day of their consecration they were to present themselves in the Tent of Meeting where the Lord would impose on them some of the spirit that was in Moses. On the appointed day they all turned up except two, Eldad and Medad. Who knows why they failed to turn up? Did they oversleep, were they drunk, or did they simply forget? It doesn't matter. The important thing is that when the spirit of the Lord descended on the sixty-eight men in the Tent of Meeting, it also descended on these two who were still in the camp. And they began to prophesy just as the other sixty-eight in the Tent were doing.

That God could cross the lines that were so neatly drawn in their minds regarding where God could or could not operate was a shock to the Israelites. Immediately they ran to tell Moses, and Joshua asked Moses to stop them. Suppress the evidence and deny the fact. But Moses knew better. He simply smiled and said, "Are you jealous for my sake? How I wish all God's people were prophets and that God would put his Spirit on them all!" (Numbers 11:29). Wouldn't that make the job a bit lighter?

Narrowminded control freaks like Joshua have never been wanting among God's people. In the Gospels we see them in the persons of James and John, the Sons of Thunder, who wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume some conscientious objectors to the Jesus movement (Luke 9:52-56). In the gospel it is John who reports to Jesus how he tried to stop a man who did not belong to their group casting out demons in Jesus' name. Why did he do that? Because, according to his poor theology, God should limit himself to the Jesus group. But Jesus, the new Moses, was there to correct him, "Do not stop him. ... Whoever is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:39-40). Do not stop him. He is doing a good job. It is by their fruit you will know them, not by their foliage.

Many Christian people lament that God no longer has a place in our world today. Maybe we are looking in the wrong places. If we looked beyond the Tent of Meeting and beyond those who belong to our group, it might surprise us to see that God is as active in our world today as He has always been. He may be working with those we regard as the wrong people, and in places we deem to be the wrong places. Our prayer today is that God may give us the humility and common sense to acknowledge and welcome Him wherever and through whomsoever He chooses to make Himself known in our world today.

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