Sunday Sermon for September 30, 2012, the Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Odianry Time, Year B

Readings: Num 11:25-29; Jas 5:1-6; Mk 9:38-43, 47-48

In the first reading today we hear about the Spirit of God being given to seventy Elders from the people of Israel. When the Spirit fills two men who decided to boycott the gathering in which the Spirit was to be bestowed, Joshua ran to Moses and requested that the great leader of the people stop the two men who were now prophesying in the camp. Moses, as meek as ever, replied “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of Israel were prophets.”

Beyond being meek, Moses realized that if God chooses to give His Spirit to a person, there is really nothing we can say about it. The problem is that Joshua and the others seemed to think these men unworthy of such a gift since they had chosen to remain in the camp rather than going out to the tent with the rest of the elders. This determination of the unworthiness of another was a rash judgment on the part of the people as an act of jealousy.

In this case the jealousy takes the form of a type of possessiveness. We see the same thing in the Gospel where the disciples are upset that someone not of their number was using the Name of Jesus to drive out demons. They wanted the man stopped because they seemed to think that only they should have the privilege of using the Holy Name of Jesus to cast out demons. They thought they had a corner on the market.

Such pride comes into our lives with more frequency than we would like to admit. We get jealous when we see others who have been given gifts by God, falling into the same problem as the people of old who wanted to determine how God should give His gifts and to whom. At other times we become like the Apostles and desire to be the only one with a certain ability or, if not the only one, at least the best. This is just pride and selfishness, wanting the spotlight for ourselves alone.

Moses did not care about being in the spotlight; neither did Jesus. They were both interested in the good of others rather than being concerned about themselves. Their humility allowed them to focus on others while their charity made them desire the good of others and even rejoice when they see a benefit extended to someone else. These are lessons we all need to learn.

If we do not work to inculcate these lessons we run the risk of becoming like those St. James blasts in the second reading. He points out how they have horded things for themselves, even to the point of cheating laborers of their wages. He speaks to them about how they have fattened their hearts by living lives of pleasure. We see not only the selfishness of these people, but the fact that they rejoice only in their own perceived good. It does not bother them if someone else is treated unjustly, as long as they get what they want.

This is worse than the jealously that we saw earlier, but it can also be the result of such a disposition. This is why we have to be so careful to guard against it in ourselves. We need to fight the pride and the selfishness at every instant because, like most sins, if we give into them they just keep getting worse.

When our Lord tells us in the Gospel that if a particular part of the body causes us to sin, we are to cut it off or puck it out. It is better, He says, to enter life with something missing than to be condemned with everything intact. Since we can only use body parts to sin rather than those parts causing us to sin, the fault does not lie with the hand, the foot or the eye. The problem is in the will.

We have to choose to do what is good and right. We have to choose to cut off our pride and pluck out our selfishness. With these we cannot enter into life; without them we cannot be condemned. Dying to self and living for others is not what comes naturally to most of us. Beyond that, we live in a very self-centered world where the most selfish and the most ruthless get ahead.

We have to remember that as members of Christ we are not living for this world. Instead, we have to live in the world for a time, but our focus needs to be on the next world. Recall that the decision of where we will spend eternity is made in this life and it is demonstrated in our choices. Get rid of the pride and selfishness and pray for charity and humility.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit