26th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Belonging to Christ

There is always a temptation in religious communities to control and possess all the ways God works and not give credit to anyone who is not part of the group or not of like mind. In today's Gospel the apostles forbid a man from casting out demons because he is not "part of their group" of followers of Jesus. The same narrowness of mind shows up in the first reading. Joshua complains that two Israelites are speaking for God with the power of God's spirit. They were not part of the seventy helpers at the special ceremony. Moses answers much like Jesus.

 The reading from the Book of Numbers presents us with a colorful image: "The Lord...took some of the spirit that was upon Moses and put it on seventy elders...and they prophesied." This caused some jealousy and resentment among the people, and Moses cried out: "Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord's Spirit would be given to them."

A prophetic vision does not mean some strange ability to know the future, but rather a sense of special insight into God's mind and heart. Jesus had his own unique prophetic vision: one that revealed the love, the wisdom and the compassion of the Father to all of us. But then He commissioned His faithful followers to do the same. He literally took His Spirit and poured it on each and all of the believers at Pentecost and He continues to do the same, especially through the ministry of His church.

The Gospel shows us some of the first followers of Jesus protesting to Him that some who were not of their "company" were casting out demons in His name. This sense of possessiveness and arrogance continues to plague the followers of the Lord. We all tend to get caught up in the debate about who are really "the elect", who really belong to the Lord, who really can speak and work in His name.

Our own arrogance can separate us from Him; it can lead us to abuse those who are poor or dependent on us; it can make us selfish and self centered; we can become insensitive and uncaring. And this leads to divisiveness. We draw lines; we get carried away with our own importance, or our own way of following Jesus, or our own particular devotions or acts of piety. Then we are tempted to condemn or criticize - or ignore - all others who act or think differently.

The disciples are told they belong to Christ. The phrase is literally, "in the name of Christ." This name is powerful enough, not only to cast out demons, but to gather others together into the person of Christ. If we are not prophetic in our faith, even our charity may be misguided. We may do good for others - for all the wrong reasons. And, if we are not careful we can be led away from the Lord by our senses, our physical desires, and our faulty vision. That is why Jesus says so harshly "if your hand, or your foot, or your eye causes you to sin, cut it off, pluck it out."

The God that Jesus reveals is a God of unfathomable love. The revelation that Jesus came to bring is much more than dogmatic pronouncements or theological definitions of who the Father is and what God is all about. Jesus continually reminds us of the words of Isaiah: "God has written our names in the palm of His hand." (Is. 49) He reveals through His words, and His life and death, that we are already saved; that we are loved beyond all measure by a God who loves recklessly and extravagantly; that we are all "important" in His eyes, no matter who we are or what we do. Every human being has this relationship with God - everyone has been given this gift. Every one of us is a member of the elect. Grace is not exclusive but universal.

Jesus pulls no punches; He makes it very clear that to be true disciples, we must open our eyes to the revelation that He brings; we must look at the world around us, and at one another, through His eyes, and live by the prophetic vision of His Gospel. It is that which allows us to claim that we belong to Him.

Our daily experiences of God act as signposts. They point to the fact that the only thing that matters is that we seek to be with God in what we do and how we think, how we feel and image the world and ourselves - that we find the joy, the mystery and wonder of ordinary living - and in allowing ourselves to be open to His presence, our relationship with Him becomes deeper and stronger - as does our relationship to one another.

These moments challenge us to look at how we are living our lives, and they show us how much more we need to do things in a loving way that allows the world to see the face of God through us.