Sunday, September 27, 2009

Homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sept. 27, 2009
Num 11: 25-29
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” (Num 11: 29).

Moses needs to share the burden of leadership. Guided by the Lord, he chooses 70 elders to work with him as leaders in Israel. The Spirit of God descends on those 70, including 2 who had inadvertently missed their official installation rite, as it were.

Joshua, young and relatively inexperienced in the ways of the Lord, is jealous for the prerogatives of Moses, as he’ll be zealous later to carry out whatever the Lord tells him when he leads Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land. But at this point he still has a good deal to learn about the ways of the Lord.

I suppose it’s useful to pause and note that. This future great leader served an apprenticeship under Moses, learning how to relate to Yahweh, learning how to lead. It wasn’t all inborn. So we shouldn’t be surprised that we, too, have to grow in the ways of the Lord, and our learning goes on, or should go on, all our lives regardless of our chronological age.

The 1st lesson in the experience of the 70 elders is that there’s no limiting the Lord; he’s not constrained by human beings, by time, by space. He’ll bestow his Holy Spirit on whomever he wishes, wherever he wishes, however he wishes.

The 2d lesson is that the Lord does choose to work within some human framework. It was Yahweh who instructed Moses to “assemble for me 70 of the elders of Israel, men you know for true elders and authorities among the people, and bring them to the meeting tent. . . . I will take some of the spirit that is on you and will bestow it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you” (9:16-17). The Lord didn’t choose the 70; he left that to Moses and to the established institutions of Israel, the existing system of tribal leadership. Altho God sometimes breaks from established institutions—calling shepherds to become kings or prophets, inviting a maiden to become a virgin mother, for instance—he also works in a partnership with men and women, using the gifts and the limitations of them, their society, their culture.

The 3d lesson flows from Moses’ wish “that all the people of the Lord were prophets! that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!” (9:29). The Lord heard his plea, if not in Moses’ time, if not under the Old Covenant, certainly in the New Covenant, when, as Peter announced on Pentecost morning, quoting from the prophet Joel:

It will come to pass in the last days, God says,
“that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh.
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your young men shall see visions,
your old men shall dream dreams.
Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids
I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days,
and they shall prophesy.”

And Peter went on to link the fulfillment of this prophecy, and implicitly of Moses’ wish, to Jesus of Nazareth, risen from the dead, “exalted at the right hand of God, who received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth, as you both see and hear” (Acts 2:17-18,33).

God has anointed all of Jesus’ followers with the Holy Spirit, made all of us prophets (as well as priests and rulers). All of us are given the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation, and sometimes, like Eldad and Medad, some are chosen for a special share of the Spirit, some special charism, some special prophetic work in the Church and for the Church (the institutional, establishment side of things) but not necessarily in a manner that the institutional Church right away recognizes and accepts (the Spirit blows where he wills, when, how, and on whom). The Spirit inspires a Pope to call an ecumenical council, inspires an [Irish widower[1]/Italian orphan girl[2]] or an Italian farm boy[3] or an Albanian missionary sister[4] to found a great religious family.

The Holy Spirit works more quietly in most of us, enabling us to prophesy by how we live out our vocations [as religious or as married people]: in such wise that we testify to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior when we teach, when we converse, when we lead, when we act, when we serve one another, when we make sacrifices of ourselves—“whether eating or drinking or whatever we do, doing everything for the glory of God” (cf. 1 Cor 10:31) for all the world to see, not that we be seen but that Jesus Christ be seen; “performing mighty deeds in his name” (Mark 9:39) or simply “giving a cup of water to drink” to one of Jesus’ people (9:41). We testify to Jesus Christ by bringing the Gospel and Gospel values to our public as well as our private lives, using whatever influence and power we might have to advance justice and peace, human life and human dignity, the common good, the preservation of God’s creation, the sharing of goods and opportunities by all.

[1] Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice, founder of the Christian Brothers.
[2] St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines.
[3] St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesian Family.
[4] Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

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