This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 9:38–43, 45, 47–48:
At that time, John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” 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. For whoever is not against us is for us. 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.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 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. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And 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, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”
It’s not difficult to find prophets these days. Open up your social media apps, and prophets can be found by the millions. We get lots of predictions, mainly of doom (because doom sells!), almost none of which come true. In the old days, false prophets would be shunned, or worse. These days, most of them pick up gigs in media outlets.
Of course, most of that kind of prophesying is more or less for entertainment value. And much of it is intended for fun, although some of it gets pretty dark. We have had cults self-destruct over malicious false prophets, and spent most of the last century dealing with political prophets and their messianic megalomaniacal attempts to reorder the world. The wars of the 20th century can be seen, rightly, as the fallout from false prophets of class and race, and the destruction they wrought as a reminder of Jesus’ warnings about false prophets in many contexts.
Today’s readings get to an important question for people of faith: who is and is not a prophet? We know who The Prophets were, because their prophesying has been preserved in scripture and has withstood the test of time. But are there other prophets than just The Prophets of the Old Testament and John the Baptist?
Our first reading offers a rather humorous moment from the greatest of the prophets before Jesus. Moses leads a group of men to the spirit of the Lord and all begin prophesying, but so do two men who were not present at this meeting. Joshua urges Moses to put a stop to it, to which Moses responds drily, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
This has echoes in the first part of our Gospel reading today as well. Jesus’ disciples tell Him that a man is driving out demons in His name, and that they wanted to put a stop to that as well. Jesus doesn’t address it with humor but instead tells the disciples not to interfere with others doing His work. “For whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus instructs, reversing the normal calculation and opening a new perspective to His disciples.
This teaches us two key principles of our faith. First, we cannot put boundaries on the Lord and His will. The church is His vessel, and not the other way around. Moses rebukes Joshua with a little bit of humor by declaring, “Would that the Lord might bestow His spirit on them all!”
And that is the second key principle — that the Lord has bestowed His spirit on us all. He gathered the Israelites to become the path of salvation for the entire world by becoming a nation of priests and prophets, ready to teach God’s word. That model failed as the Israelites and later the Judeans chose temporal power and influence over the Lord’s true mission.
This is why Jesus came, not in power but in humility and self-sacrificial love. Jesus’ mission makes us all prophets in the literal/biblical sense, enabled by the Holy Spirit to proclaim God’s word to the world. We have become the model of salvation by our baptism and faith. It is how we accomplish the Great Commission given to us by Christ at His Ascension to make disciples of the whole world.
Our choice comes down to the same choice faced by the Israelite and Judean kingdoms. Do we choose the role of prophet in both word and deed, or do we choose temporal power and comfort over our part in the Lord’s salvation?
The front-page image is a detail from “The Trials of Moses” by Sandro Botticelli, c. 15th century. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.