The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Numbers 11:25-29 + James 5:1-6 + Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
September 26, 2021
“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
The Scripture passages this Sunday speak to the importance of just and healthy laws. We also hear of this in the refrain to the Responsorial Psalm: “the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.” The Psalmist continues to explore this in the verses of the psalm—Psalm 19—declaring that “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul”, and that “the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.”
The purpose of law is to bring order to a community. It allows individuals to get along with other, rather than each man, woman, and child being a law unto himself or herself.
Every law, and every person who passes, executes, or judges laws, is answerable to the Creator of all things. God the Creator created the universe with an intrinsic order. Every wise scientist knows that the material universe has its own intrinsic order, and will teach those willing to listen that the law of gravity, the law of entropy, and the law of conservation of matter cannot be repealed by any congress. Every wise physician knows that the human body has its own intrinsic order, and will teach those willing to listen that one cannot pretend that an unhealthy diet, smoking, or exposure to high levels of radiation will make a human person healthier. So it is with civil law on matters pertaining to man’s intrinsic nature.
Man can pretend to have authority over moral norms, but he does so at his own risk. The question is whether Christians are willing to speak boldly on behalf of the intrinsic moral order by which God created man. Modern man might take a cue from today’s First Reading.
“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” The First Reading is somewhat mysterious. It’s mysterious not only because in this passage the “Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses”. It’s mysterious not only because the Lord took “some of the spirit that was on Moses” and “bestowed it on the seventy elders”. It’s mysterious in how it reveals the connection between the law and the prophet.
Each and every Christian, through her or his baptism, is called to be a prophet. It’s easy to imagine Jesus saying during His days on earth, and also today, what Moses proclaims in the First Reading: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
Each culture, sub-culture, and religion has its own prophets. Prophets may differ from one such body of persons to another. There may be cultures, sub-cultures and religions where to be a prophet is to be nothing other than a “free spirit”, one who lets the wind blow where it wills without regard for rules and regulations, doctrines and dogmas. But Christianity is not such a body.
The Christian prophet does not oppose the Law of the Lord. He is precisely the one who takes risks to stand up for it, is willing to be persecuted for his witness, and knows that his life is about the Lord instead of about himself.
The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is vastly imperfect, “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul”. The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is often untrustworthy and simple, “the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.” The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is often false and unjust, “the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.”
God asks you to serve Him as a prophet: to defend His saving Law, which is the Law that brings order, refreshment, wisdom, truth and justice to the spirit. This is the spirit of Jesus and His Father. This is God the Holy Spirit, the spirit who gives everlasting life.
We live in a world today that is so topsy-turvy that it becomes more and more clear each day just how much spirit it takes to defend God’s law. But the great English journalist G. K. Chesterton had a very optimistic view of this sort of challenge. He noted that the “act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.” Would that each of us would give ourselves over to this exhilaration. “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”