Every now and then we come across people in our lives who stand out, inexplicably. They haven’t followed the normal pathways of life. They haven’t followed the conventional routes of study or apprenticeship. But they stand out: the untrained yet stunning singer; the hobby craftsman who produces the most elegant carvings; the amateur painter who takes first prize in the art show; the speech that captures the imagination of the world from the person who has never before entered the arena of public speaking. We see it in nature too, don’t we? The plant that shouldn’t have borne flowers; the tree that outgrew all the others, against the odds. Our reactions to these incidents can vary. Some of us will be in wonder and awe. How did s/he come to be so skilled and so competent? We praise them for their incredible talent and for sharing it with the world. Others can be suspicious. How could this be? I am not convinced this is true? Still, others can be jealous, eaten up by envy, and unable to acknowledge the exception. It too is threatening.
Something of that experience comes across in this Sunday’s readings. In the first reading, we hear the account of Moses meeting God who, we are told, came down in a cloud. The cloud is like the Spirit of God hovering over Moses and the seventy elders. They are filled with the Spirit and teach and preach about the law of God. But strangely it seems that two others, Eldad and Medad, who were not within the cloud, also begin to teach and preach or, ‘prophesy’ as the text tells us. What is Moses’ response to this when informed by one of the young people in his camp? Let them go! Do not be jealous. Wouldn’t it be great if the Spirit of God was given to all? Moses seems to recognise that the God who is encountered in the cloud is not restricted to the cloud. God will move where God will and God will move in and through those whom God chooses.
A similar thing is reported in today’s account in Mark’s Gospel. In this case, it is John who says to Jesus, “Master we saw a man who is not one of us casting out devils in your name and because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.” Once again, in the line of the Mosaic tradition, Jesus responds, ‘Anyone who is not against us is for us.’
So, Mark tells us, the spirit and influence and inspiration of Christ does not work in straight lines or set pathways. The Lord will call those who he will. Today it could be you. There may just be some small act of love, word of encouragement or prayer of solidarity that you are being called to take up.
Mark goes even further. If there are those among you who instead of preaching in my name, instead of offering even ‘a cup of water,’ becomes an obstacle to Christ, then they should be cut off. Mark uses the analogy of the body. It would be better to cut off or remove these parts of the body (of Christ) who are scandalous. Those who place burdens on people instead of offering freedom and life. These should also be a reminder to us. As members of the body of Christ our mission is to lift burdens and lighten loads. We do not exist to weigh people’s lives down.
God is still at work bringing life, light, and freedom. Let’s pray that God continues to bring forth the unexpected and the brave to speak anew these words of freedom and hope in our time.
By Fr Brendan Reed