Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings
26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of the Readings: The Generosity of God's Gifts
In the First Reading, God bestows some of His spirit given to Moses upon seventy men gathered at God's holy Sanctuary. They were anointed with God's spirit to be the elders of the covenant people and to assist Moses in seeing to the people's needs. The liturgy of the Church sees in the priesthood of Aaron, the service of the Levites, and the institution of the seventy elders a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant (CCC 1541). When young Joshua complains that two men who remained within the camp also are prophesying like the seventy, Moses declares his desire "... that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" This episode teaches us that God's gifts are not limited to a select group of people within the covenant community, and it introduces the theme of the Gospel Reading.
In the Second Reading, St. James, bishop of Jerusalem warns the wealthy in the Church's faith communities that their accumulated wealth does not give them special privileges. James charges the wealthy with being boastful in declaring their self-sufficiency in storing up material wealth and in failing to do what they know is right concerning the poor. The real treasure that lasts is in using God's blessing of material wealthy to do works of mercy that count towards a heavenly reward.
In the Gospel Reading, St. John Zebedee, like Joshua in the First Reading, makes the same mistake of presuming that only a select few are inspired by the Spirit of God and entrusted to carry out God's divine plans. The lesson in the readings is that God desires to bestow His blessings and the grace of His Spirit on all the people of God who He calls to faith and service. "The Spirit blows where it wills" (Jn 3:8), and God wills that His Spirit bless all the people of God under heaven (Acts 2:38-39) so they can serve as His ministers to a humanity in need of material help and spiritual guidance.
The plea of the psalmist should be our prayer today. Have we like Joshua and John been critical and lacked charity in our dealings with brothers and sisters in the faith community who are trying their best to serve God? Do we suffer from jealously or mixed motives in our opposition instead of seeking only our Divine Father's will? Does our love of wealth and luxury or selfishness in donating our time prevent us from being generous in assisting those in need? We need to make the psalmist's prayer our own: "Lord, Cleanse me from my unknown faults!"
The First Reading Numbers 11:25-29 ~ The Gift of God's
Spirit to the Elders
25 The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Taking some of the spirit [ruah] that was on Moses, the LORD bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit [ruah] came on them they prophesied [but only once]. 26 Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit [ruah] came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 So, when a young man quickly told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp," 28 Joshua son of Nun, who from his youth had served as Moses aide, said "Moses, my lord, stop them!" 29 But Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit [ruah] on them all!" 30 Moses then went back to the camp with the elders of Israel. [..] = literal Hebrew translation IBHE, vol. I, pages 379-80.
Moses spoke to God about the burden of his responsibility in caring for the people's spiritual well-being as well as serving as the people's covenant mediator and teacher of the Law (Num 11:11-15). In response to Moses' complaint, Yahweh divinely appointed seventy elders to aid Moses in teaching the people and seeing to their spiritual needs. It is unknown if these men are the same seventy who attended the sacred meal that sealed the covenant ratification ceremony in Exodus 24:1, 9-10.
The word ruah, which can be translated "wind," "breath," or "spirit," is repeated five times in 11:17-29 and refers to the charism of God's spirit. In Scripture five is the number signifying power and grace. When God's spirit was put upon the elders, they only uttered prophesy once, not in the sense of foretelling but speaking in enraptured enthusiasm (see 1 Sam 10:10ff; 19:20ff; Acts 2:6, 11, 17; 19:6; 1 Cor 12-14). The elders received an initial anointing of the spirit of God and the gift of prophetic utterance to show the people that they were divinely appointed. Two of the seventy elders, Eldad and Medad, did not join the other elders for some unknown reason. Perhaps they were ill or caring for a child or relative—whatever the reason they were not penalized for their failure to attend the gathering and the divine anointing at the Sanctuary, and they also received the spiritual anointing. Moses' young servant, Joshua, is annoyed that Eldad and Medad, who did not attend the anointing ceremony with the others at the Sanctuary, are speaking prophetically within the camp. When he complains and advises Moses to stop them, Moses replies: "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" One must not criticize or be jealous of God bestowing His spiritual gifts.
That Eldad and Medad were not part of the newly anointed ecclesial community of elders did not prevent God's spirit from manifesting Himself upon them. God's spirit is without limit, and therefore the spirit that was in Moses was not lessened when it was distributed to the elders. St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote that God's gifts are distributed according to the capacity of the recipient, even to those who are outside the ecclesial assembly (St. Cyril, Catechetical Lecture 16.25). It is for this reason that all men and women who have received the Sacrament of Baptism are qualified by the Spirit of God to serve the Church in many ministries, even those like Eldad and Medad who teach "within the camp"/within the congregation, like the majority of our CCD teachers and Adult Bible Study teachers who serve among the priesthood of believers.
The Church sees in the priesthood of Aaron, the service of the Levites, and the institution of the seventy elders a prefiguring of the ordained ministry of the New Covenant, while Eldad and Medad represent the priesthood of believers of the New Covenant people who also serve (CCC 1541). Moses' desire "... that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!" was fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday in 30 AD, when God's Holy Spirit filled and indwelled the New Covenant people praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, giving them the gift of the Holy Spirit to fulfill their mission to carry the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth (Acts 2). This full indwelling of God's Spirit came fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection and ten days after His Ascension in the birth of the New Covenant Church. It is a spiritual gift each newly re-born Christian receives in the Sacrament of Baptism; it is a gift that is only given once (CCC 691, 1272).
Responsorial Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
The response is: "The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart."
8 The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; the decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.
10 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just.
12 Though your servant is careful of them, very diligent in keeping them, 13 yet who can detect failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults!
14 From wanton sins especially, restrain your servant; let it not rule over me. Then shall I be blameless and innocent of serious sin.
This psalm, attributed to David, demonstrates that the psalmist understood how unconfessed sins can damage one's loving relationship with God, and he acknowledges the necessity of sincere confession and humble repentance to restore closeness to God (see Psalm 51).
The psalmist announces his trust in the Law of the Lord as a tutor and a guide to an upright life (verses 8 and 10). As the Lord's anointed servant, he says that he is careful to avoid sin and is committed to being obedient to the Law, but at the same time acknowledges that human beings are fallible. He pleads with the Lord to reveal to him any sins he has unknowingly or careless committed so he can confess them and be cleansed (verses 12-13). He is aware that sins in his life will keep him from being the good servant God wants him to be, and he petitions God not to let sin rule over him. With God's help and a humble and contrite heart, he can be "blameless and innocent" of serious offenses against his Lord (verse 14).
The Second Reading James 5:1-6 ~ A Warning for the
Wealthy and Self-confided
1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 2 Your wealth has rotten away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.
St. James, first Christian bishop of Jerusalem and kinsman of Jesus, opens this passage with a harsh term of address to the wealthy which conforms to the Biblical prophets' warning of "Woe to you..." For example see the prophet Isaiah's condemnation of wealthy Israelites who are selfish and uncaring concerning the conditions of the poor within the covenant community in Isaiah 5:8-16. Compare the Isaiah judgment to Jesus' condemnation of the complacent rich in Luke 6:24-26. St. James' condemnation of the rich is also reminiscent of Jesus' warning in the Sermon on Mount in Matthew 6:19-21, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is there also will your heart be.
James gives a dire warning to the rich, the proud and the self-sufficient who give no thought for the hardships of others and the good they could do with their wealth. James uses the same Greek word for "weep" in James 4:9, Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep ..., but in that passage the weeping was a sign of repentance while in this passage the weeping is a sign of the fear the rich should feel facing God's judgment.
James charges the wealthy with being boastful in declaring their self-sufficiency and independence of God and in refusing to do what they know is right, and he brings 4 charges against them in 5:2-3, 4a, 5, and 6. St. Bede writes that the sin of the rich and proud is that they put their trust in their own strength: "God punishes robbers, perjurers, gluttons and other sinners because they are in contempt of his commandments, but it is said that he resists the proud in a special way. This is because those who trust in their own strength, who neglect to submit themselves to God's power who really think that they can almost save themselves and therefore have no time to seek help from above—these are all deserving of greater punishments. On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble because they recognize their need and ask him for help to overcome the plague of their sins, and for this reason they deserve to be healed."
In his first charge in 5:3, St. James lashes out against the rich with a dire prediction in his first charge: 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. James says in 5:3c that it is like a fire which they have stored up for the "final days." We, and those James was addressing, are living in the Messianic Age of the New Covenant; it is the Final Age of man. In Hebrew this age is called the acharit-hayamim, "the end of days" (see 2 Corinthians 6:2; Amos 2:6-7; 8:4-8; Matthew 6:19; Acts 2:14-21).
Today, as in James' times, the superior position of the rich assures them of their power and authority and the perils of the rich are not apparent. However, on Judgment Day they will stand before the throne of God when the success or failure of one's life will not be judged by material possessions and wealth but on the exercise of mercy, generosity, and love. On that Day of Judgment, our works without merit will be burned up—purified in the flames of God's fiery love and only our good deeds will survive (1 Cor 3:12-15). Some of us will then pass through to the Beatific Presence of the Trinity [heaven] but with little to show for our lives on earth by way of the silver and gold of our righteous deeds. Purgatory is not directly mentioned in this passage but this text is one of those on the basis of which the Church has formed the doctrine of Purgatory as a place of purification before entrance into the Beatific Presence of God (see CCC# 1030-32). In Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 29:8(11)-13 (16), the inspired writer says that it is more profitable for the rich to aid the poor and disadvantaged because it is God who will reward their investment. The truth is we cannot take our earthly wealth with us to the grave and beyond. At judgment it is our good deeds that will survive the fire of judgment.
In 5:4 James accuses the selfish rich in his second charge.
It is interesting that James should use this ancient title for Yahweh, "the
Lord of Hosts", literally "Yahweh Sabaoth" in the Hebrew texts, which refers to
Yahweh as the divine commander of all the forces that exist at God's command
throughout His creation, including the heavenly armies of angels who serve
Him. For the Jews of the Diaspora to whom James' letter is addressed, this
ancient title would recall Yahweh's role as the Divine Commander who was the
leader of the armies of Israel out of Egypt, the Divine Commander who Joshua
served in the conquest of the Promised Land and also David's protector in his
battles against the forces of the Philistines (for example see 1 Sam 4:4;
Ps 24:10; 46:7; 89:7-8). In the New Testament this unique term only occurs in
James 5:4 and in Romans 9:29 where Paul compares the holy remnant of New
Covenant Israel to the of the holy remnant of Israel which God preserved during
the exile, quoting Isaiah 1:9 in Romans 9:29.
There are 290 references to God as "Yahweh Sabaoth" or "God Sabaoth" or "Yahweh God Sabaoth" in the Catholic canon.
In 5:4 James makes a connection to Leviticus chapter 19. According to the Law in Leviticus 19:13 a worker in the fields had to be paid at the end of the day at sundown. The Jewish day ended at sundown and the next day began. Whether or not a laborer received his pay probably determined if he would eat that day. To withhold his wage meant that he and his family would go hungry, while the rich man filled his stomach. The command to treat laborers fairly is repeated in Deuteronomy 24:14-15 and also in Malachi 3:5 where the Malachi text uses Yahweh's title "Sabaoth" and St. James may have been alluding to that passage: I am coming to put you on trial and I shall be a ready witness against sorcerers, adulterers, perjurers, and against those who oppress the wage-earner, the widow and the orphan, and who rob the foreigner of his rights and do not respect me, says Yahweh Sabaoth (NJB).
The cries of those who suffer because of the abuses or neglect of the rich reached the Lord of Hosts, Yahweh Sabaoth, just as innocent Abel's blood cried out to God from the ground in Genesis 4:10 and the cries of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt in Exodus 3:7. James' point is to remind the Jewish Christians of their history; if God did not ignore the cries of the suffering and abused in the case of righteous Abel and in the case of the children of Israel suffering in Egypt, what makes them think God will ignore the cries of the oppressed now? James is saying, "If He came against their oppressors in the past in judgment will He not come against you now? Also see CCC# 1867; 2409; 2434 which quotes James 5:4.
Those who God will come against are those to whom St. James makes his third accusation: You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter (verse 5). James imagery of luxury and slaughter is a comparison between self-indulgence and destruction or judgment. Just as animals who are destined for slaughter are force fed to prepare them, so the rich prepare themselves in indulgent living for their own slaughter/judgment—their day or time of slaughter will be their "day or time of Judgment." James accusation recalls Jesus' parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk 16:19-31) in which the selfish rich man who ignored the plight of poor Lazarus is condemned to punishment and poor Lazarus receives his just reward.
In St. James' 4th accusation: 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance. In his commentary on the Letter of St. James, Father Hartin points out that the Greek verb katadikazein, "to condemn", "reflects the legal context of a court where a judgment of condemnation is meted out" (Sacra Pagina: James, page 230). You should ask yourself, "Who is the epitome of the righteous man in James 5:6" and "what righteous man was unjustly condemned and yet offered no resistance?" Every righteous son or daughter of God who is faithful and obedient to the Law of God and has suffered for the sake of faith in Christ Jesus is numbered among the "righteous" (see 1 Jn 2:29). But 1 John 2:1 identifies Jesus as the only truly "Righteous One." We are told in Matthew's account of Jesus' trial that Jesus offered no defense when He was condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt 27:11-14) and by the Roman governor, Pilate (as prophesized in Isaiah 53:7, and as Christ's Passion is foreshadowed in Wisdom 2:12-20).
Like those Old Testament passages, St. James may be referring to the Passion of the Christ who offered no resistance to his accusers and tormentors. Theophylact (c. AD 1050-1108), Byzantine Archbishop of Achrida, in what is today Bulgaria, in his Commentary on James 5:6 writes: "It cannot be denied that this verse refers to Christ, especially since James adds that there was no resistance. Nevertheless it also includes others who suffered at the hands of the Jews, and he may even have been speaking prophetically about his own approaching death."
St. James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem, like his kinsman Jesus was also a righteous man who was murdered by wicked men to whom he offered no resistance. In this passage St. James may not only be speaking of Jesus' Passion but is perhaps speaking prophetically of his own martyrdom. The circumstances surrounding the death of James were recorded by Bishop Eusebius in the 4th century AD from Church documents that contained eye witness accounts of St. James' martyrdom: "And when many were fully convinced and gloried in the testimony of James, and said, 'Hosanna to the Son of David,' these same Scribes and Pharisees said again to one another, 'We have done badly in supplying such testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him (James) down, in order that they may be afraid to believe in him.' And they cried out saying, 'Oh! Oh! The just man is also in error.' And they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah; 'Let us take away the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore they shall eat the fruit of their doings.' So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to each other, 'Let us stone James the Just.' And they began to stone him, for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned and knelt down and said, 'I entreat thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'" (Church History, Eusebius Book I, XXIII. 13-16).
The Gospel of Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 ~ The
Freedom to Proclaiming Christ and Temptations to Sin
38 John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us." 39 Jesus replied, "Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. 40 For whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. 42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [skandalizo = stumble/offend], it would be better for him if a great [donkey] millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 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. [..] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. [..] 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 124 or missing verses or words not included in our reading.
John Zebedee has apparently not learned from the previous teaching concerning greatness in Jesus' Kingdom being based on humility and service. An unnamed man's success has evidently sparked the jealousy of the Apostles who were unsuccessful in casting a demon out of the boy earlier. Jesus' point in telling John and the others to let the man heal in His name is that the ministers of the Kingdom are not "exclusive" they are "inclusive." There is no room for jealousy in the spiritual warfare that is necessary to advance the Kingdom.
This incident is reminiscent of Joshua's complaint to Moses in the First Reading that there were two men in the camp who had not received Moses' anointing who were also filled with the spirit of God and were prophesizing in the camp (Num 11:24-29). But Moses rebuked Joshua in the same way Jesus rebuked John.
Mark 9:42-43, 45, 47-48 ~ Temptations to Sin
42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin [skandalizo = stumble/offend], it would be better for him if a great [donkey] millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 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. [..] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. [..] 47And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 124 or verses not included in our reading.
Still holding the little child on His lap (see Mk 9:36), Jesus pronounces a divine judgment against anyone who seeks to lead "a child" who believes in Him into sin. In this passage the Greek verb skandalizo refers to what causes one to stumble into sin. These are Greek words from which we get our words "scandalize" and "scandal." The image of the child on Jesus' lap changes to the "little ones who believe in me" in verse 42? Jesus is no longer talking about the child on His lap; He is referring to the "children" of His kingdom, those who believe in Jesus and accept Him as their Lord and Savior (see 1 Jn 3:1-2).
In 9:36-37 the Greek word paidion (child under twelve) referred to a real child. But now the metaphor functions as a synonym for the disciples who are the "little ones" who believe. The judgment Jesus pronounces against those who cause His believers to "stumble" into sin or to lose their faith is found in all three Synoptic Gospels (see Mt 18:6 and Lk 17:2). The judgment imagery of a millstone being thrown into the sea is also found in Revelation 18:21-22. Such ultimate destruction is the judgment awaiting all unrepentant sinners and enemies of God who add to human suffering and seek to destroy the faith of the children of His Kingdom.
it would be better for him if a great [donkey] millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
A Greek text literally reads a "donkey millstone." It was the kind of millstone that was so huge that it took a donkey to turn it. Such a person who is immersed in sin will suffer the same fate as sin itself when God will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins (Mic 7:19).
There are a number of Scripture passages that mention judgments by drowning of the wicked or enemies of God from the Old Testament and New Testaments (see Gen 6:5-7; 7:11-12, 17 and 22; Ex 14:26-28 and Neh 9:11; Mk 5:14; Rev 18:21).
In the Bible, "Babylon" became the code name for any city of great wickedness as it is used in Revelation 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10 and 21 for the city in which Jesus was condemned to death and in which was found the blood of prophets and holy ones: Jerusalem (Rev 18:24; also see what Jesus said about divine judgment on Jerusalem in Mt 23:31-39).
In verses 43-47 Jesus is not speaking literally; he uses hyperbole to make the point that one must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and therefore to avoid eternal damnation. If someone brings scandal to Jesus' "children," the person or persons who are the agent/agents of the sin will not be able to avoid bearing responsibility for their actions.
In this passage Jesus describes Gehenna as a place of "unquenchable fire" (for other references to Gehenna see Mt 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28; 23:15 and 33). Jesus uses the word Gehenna as a metaphor for the place or state where the wicked are doomed to an eternal fiery punishment which is often referred to as the Hell of the damned. See CCC 1033-36, 1861 and the study entitled: "The Eight Last Things," lesson IV.
Jesus makes three serious statements about sin and its impact:
their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.
This passage recalls Isaiah's image of divine judgment and Hell's unbearable torment in Isaiah 66:24 ~ They shall go out and see the corpses of men who rebelled against me; their worm shall not die, nor their fire be extinguished; and they shall be abhorrent to all mankind. The imagery is of God's enemies who are dead outside the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem; just as in the past the corpses and filth lay in the Valley of Gehenna outside the city of the earthly Jerusalem where huge fires were continually burning.
Many people, even Christians, find the Hell of eternal separation from God a difficult subject. Yet, the teachings of Scripture and the Church affirm the existence of Hell and its eternal dimension. The chief punishment of Hell is eternal separation from God where the unrepentant person, whose soul is lost in mortal sin, suffers the penalty of eternal fire. The Catholic Church teaches that God does not predestine anyone to Hell (CCC 1037) and the choice of eternal life or eternal damnation is the personal choice of every individual based on the choices they make in life (see Mt 25:31-46 and CCC 1033-36). In fact, the destiny God has planned for every human being is eternal life and He is not willing that anyone should perish; the choice of our ultimate destiny is our own (2 Pt 3:9; 1 Tim 2:3-4).
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015