The Book of Numbers receives its title from the censuses, or numbering of the people, taken of and by the Israelites in the desert of Sinai after leaving Egypt. They needed to find out who was old enough to perform military service as they ventured forward to the Promised Land. It is in this great book, which captures much of their desert experience, that we find the Christ-like bronze serpent that is lifted up to heal the people’s sin, God’s use of a talking donkey and a good deal of leadership rivalry.
Moses, himself beset with weakness, is burdened with the shepherding of God’s beloved grumbling people. God in his mercy grants Moses helpers in the form of 70 elders who can assist him in his leadership role. In today’s first reading God is bestowing the grace of leadership on these 70 elders and they manifest the Spirit’s presence by a pentecostal ecstasy called “prophecy.” This gift is so beautiful that its presence in the 70 leads others to share in the rapturing experience. Moses marvels at God’s greatness and wishes that “all the people of the Lord were prophets!”
In the Gospel, Jesus does not simply manifest this type of pentecostal ecstasy, but rather he, like God in the Book of Numbers, is actually the bestower of such an experience. In fact, it is in his name and under his authority that demons are driven out and the fallen world is being restored. All of this is revealing that Jesus himself is the presence of God and not simply a prophet.
The presence is so great that like the Book of Numbers his power is spilling over to others beyond the apostles and this leads John to say, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Christ, distantly echoing the words of Moses, says to John: “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.”
This power and authority to drive out demons and restore the fallen world continues in our world through Christ. Jesus is alive and risen from the dead. He comes to us in full power through his living body, the church. His voice speaks to us even now, seeking to drive out both proverbial and actual demons and to restore our fallen selves. God seeks our openness to such healing.
Through the Gospel, Jesus asks us to get serious about what prevents God’s life from manifesting itself with pentecostal joy and power. “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” Not actually but proverbially. Getting rid of things or situations that lead us into sin is an important step toward opening ourselves to God. We mustn’t kid ourselves. If we really want to experience God in this life and the next, then certain things have to go. In letting them go, we let God in.
Questions for Reflection
1. How much authority does Jesus have in my life?
2. Am I comfortable with manifesting the joy of God?
3. What in my life is blocking God?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.