Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)

Sept. 27, 2009

Last week, St. James reminded us that “jealousy and selfish ambition” stand side by side with “disorder and every foul practice.” He coaxes us to seek for its antidote, which is “wisdom from above,” or holiness of life.

Today’s first reading shows us a concrete example of what earthly, worldly wisdom, not the kind that comes “from above,” can lead all of us to – selfishness, and the unwillingness to share with others whatever good thing we may have in us. Eldad and Medad, two individuals who, in some way, could very well be considered “outsiders,” who “had not gone out to the tent,” but on whom “the spirit came to rest” all the same, and who “prophesied in the camp,” incurred the envy and selfishness of a young man. This young fellow even had the temerity to tell Moses: “Moses my Lord, stop them.”

Under the guise of being protective of Moses’ prerogative as the chosen prophet and leader, the young man had become too guarded, too jealous, and too restrictive of something that the “spirit of the Lord” has come to give out so generously to people, to “seventy elders,” we are told, who then began to prophesy. Perhaps unwittingly, the selfish young man had in a very real sense resorted to building a protective fence around what he thought ought to have been restricted and guarded so jealously.

The problem, of course, with building fences lies in this: one fences “out,” as much as one fences something “in.” When one selfishly restricts others, one actually ends up constricting oneself, too, in the process. Closing the gates on others can really mean also closing the gates on oneself, cooping oneself up in a sealed, but sterile environment that smothers individuals, not gathers persons. When one shuts the doors to others, one may simply wither, devoid of the riches of what being together with others may bring.

The expansive and perceptive Moses lost no time in addressing the issue forthrightly: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Moses was zeroing in on what he and the 70 elders were sent to do in the first place: work together, in order to gather people under the sway of the only true God. Inclusivity is the good news that Moses preached. Inclusivity – or universality, if you will, is the great news the prophets were sent for. And shutting people out, picking on two erstwhile absentees (outsiders), discriminating and singling out individuals who did not seem to “fulfill all the requirements” does not form part of this good news.

We could do a lot less of such selfishness in our society today!

There seems to be a whole lot of selfishness in what appears, on the surface, to be groups that cater to people’s and groups’ spirit of unity, belongingness, and camaraderie. Fraternities and sororities all profess the spirit of fraternal camaraderie, sharing and caring between members, for one. Assuredly not bad in itself, one only wonders whether that same spirit of concern could also be extended to others, who, for one reason or another, may be marginalized. People who come from the same schools could cultivate some kind of esprit d’corps. They may swap the same stories, and recount familiar old tales. They can have long hours recounting and repeating the same jokes and anecdotes. But again, one wonders if the warm feelings associated with alumni homecomings can translate to genuine concern and caring for those outside the privileged circle, those who need a little more than a recounting of stories “for good old times’ sake.” Graduates of the Philippines’ premier military institution, who actually were paid for handsomely by Juan de la Cruz’ hard-earned money, could go into a culture equivalent to the Italian concept of omerta’ and can be jealously protective of each other’s skin that even crimes against the state may be covered for in the name of this code of silence and loyalty to fellow “mistahs.” The supercilious and exclusive moneyed class in our midst, could be so jealously protective of their turf, and their quality of life, as to be so unconcerned, if not downright contemptuous of those who may not be in the same league as they are.

There is a whole lot of fencing in and fencing out in our society …sadly, including our Christian communities.

The call to Christian inclusivity rings loud in today’s liturgy. The call is addressed to all of us who all have the tendency to exclude others out. There is a bit of the jealous young man in all of us; a bit of the rich in every one of us; a bit even of the young John who told the Lord in his misguided zeal: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” There is in each and everyone of us that tendency to look over our shoulders as we follow the Lord, and see all the mistakes that other would-be followers do. Envy and jealousy, and a lot, too, of what we condescendingly call “politics” takes place in every grouping, every community, including catholic covenanted communities – why, including the Church herself! Has it not occurred to anyone of you, that, while parish priests and religious superiors are constantly being changed, the so-called lay “elders” in so many covenanted communities stay up there in their ivory tower offices all their lives? Is it then any wonder that after so much time being kowtowed to by people down the line, some of them eventually begin to think they have a direct line to heaven and that they can read the leadings of the Spirit, like they read horoscopes? Is it any wonder then that some individuals who begin to “rock the boat” get banished from the circle of the ruling elite, and are then “fenced out” as much as is possible?

The good news is good for me, for us men of the cloth, for us priests and religious – and superiors – as it is good for the ordinary woman or man of the street. This is the good news that pricks our sense of self-complacency. This is the good news that the Lord would like to tell all of us – whether we are in or out of a privileged circle right at this moment. That good news is the good news of inclusivity, the good news that welcomes all. This is the good news of salvation, which is a call for everyone, without exception. What does being Church really mean for us today then? It means being together in the Lord, to gather everyone in His name. “For whoever is not against us, is for us!”