When Joshua asks Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying because they were not present at the bestowing of the Spirit, Moses replies, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” Likewise, when John complains that somebody, who is an outsider, is casting out demons using Jesus’ name, the Lord responds, “Do not prevent him… for whoever is not against us is for us.”
Jealousy is an ugly thing that has been with us since Cain and Abel (since Adam and Eve, actually). It diminishes us and renders us petty and bitter, “acting more like children than children.” Worse, it blinds us from seeing the goodness (God’s gift) in people, and drives us to frustrate, if not destroy that goodness.
In today’s gospel, Jesus continues to educate his apostles by impressing on them that discipleship is not about exclusivity or privileged group membership, but about living as he lives – a life of self-giving and service. Jesus values every service, whether it is performed by an “Insider” or an “outsider” of the community, and regardless whether it is great as driving out demons, or humble as giving a cup of water to drink. He assures that service done in his name will be repaid with a reward that far exceeds the deed.
At the same time, Jesus warns that whoever causes the most vulnerable of his followers to sin will be dealt with severely. This warning becomes relevant today with the sad cases of sexual abuse in the Church. As we painfully go through this dark period in our history, we pray that the Lord continue to purify, convert and renew us, guided by the reforms introduced by Pope Francis and his predecessors.
Finally, Jesus teaches us to be ready to sacrifice the lesser for sake of the greater good. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.”
While Jesus may have in mind some surgical operation of a diseased limb deemed necessary to save the whole body, his advice is certainly not meant to be taken literally. The point is that one should be ready to cut himself from any attachment that threatens his salvation, be it a vice, an addiction, a forbidden relationship or a bad barkada… in a word, sin and whatever leads to sin. One’s salvation is of such supreme importance that one should be ready to sacrifice anything that undermines it.
I am reminded of the movie, 127 Hours, which tells the true story of Aron Ralson (played by James Franco). An avid mountaineer, Aron accidentally fell into a deep canyon which caused his arm to be crushed and get stuck between fallen boulders. When all attempts to free his arm proved futile, he finally realized that the only way to save his life was to cut his arm. And this he did with his pocket knife!
In contrast to the pettiness of Joshua, who holds claim to an exclusive privilege, is the magnanimity of Moses, who exclaims, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”
With the coming of Christ, Moses’ aspiration has come true in us. There is no more reason for us to be jealous like Joshua. Through baptism, we are indeed “all prophets [for] the Lord has bestowed his Spirit on us all.” We are thus reminded of our privilege and mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all.
This is basically the meaning of the theme for our 500 Years of Christianity celebration – “Missio ad Gentes: Gifted to Give.”*